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Talent assessment in soccer: predicting performance through the lens of selection psychology

PhD ceremony:Mr T.L.G. (Tom) Bergkamp
When:September 15, 2022
Supervisor:prof. dr. R.R. (Rob) Meijer
Co-supervisors:prof. dr. J.R. (Ruud) den Hartigh, dr. W.G.P. (Wouter) Frencken, dr. A.S.M. (Susan) Niessen
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
Talent assessment in soccer: predicting performance through the
lens of selection psychology

Professional soccer clubs are always searching for talented soccer players. Based on match observations or results on performance tests, soccer coaches and scouts strive to identify players who have the potential to participate at the professional soccer level. By doing so, they (implicitly) make performance predictions. However, making such predictions is hard: youth players are often selected at an early age for clubs’ professional academies, which means that predictions cover large time intervals and are uncertain.    

How can soccer clubs improve talent selection decisions? Or in other words: how can we optimize performance predictions in soccer? In his PhD thesis ‘Talent Assessment in Soccer: Predicting Performance Through the Lens of Selection Psychology’ Tom Bergkamp aimed to answer these questions. In collaboration with the KNVB and FC Groningen, he examined which methods lead to better predictions among soccer scouts, coaches, and from soccer specific tests. He used insights from psychological research on selection (i.e. selection psychology), which had previously not been applied in the sports literature.    

The thesis offers new insights on predicting soccer performance. For example, it presents a large-scale survey on the decision-making process of soccer scouts; a topic which had received little interest in the sport sciences so far. In addition, it includes an experiment  – involving nearly one hundred scouts and coaches of professional soccer clubs – examining  whether a structured assessment approach improves the predictions of these decision-makers. Finally, the thesis examines whether soccer performance in small-sided soccer games can be used as a predictor of performance in regular 11v11 games. The findings in this thesis may raise awareness among soccer- and sport organizations on the importance of evidence-based talent selection methods.