The Premier League is leading the development of a system to help clubs at academy level look beyond physical dominance when identifying and developing talent.
It looks to focus on the technical and tactical prowess of academy players so that clubs take into account a youngster’s level of maturation in recruitment, development and retention of those players.
Twelve months of research led by James Bunce, head of sports science at the Premier League, and Dan Hunt, the body’s head of elite performance, has been guided by a steering group of 11 world experts in the field of sporting maturation, including Dr Sean Cumming, a senior lecturer in paediatric exercise science and the psychology of growth and maturation at Bath University.
Their research found that at clubs in the Barclays Premier League there was a bias towards players who were born in the first academic quarter, known as the “Relative Age Effect”. Against a general average of 25% of people born between September and December, 28% of the clubs’ English players in the first team have their birthdays in this quarter. Players born in the fourth quarter of the academic year (June-August) made up just 18%.
“The potential issues with having only a chronological age group games programme is that all players develop and mature at different rates,” said Bunce, who previously was head of athletic development at Southampton’s academy. “This can often lead to players biologically being three years apart but training and playing together all the time.