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Open Access Publication in the Spotlight (June) - 'How Soccer Scouts identify Talented Players'

Date:15 June 2021
Author:Open Access Team
Open access publication in the spotlight: June 2021
Open access publication in the spotlight: June 2021

Each month, the open access team of the University of Groningen Library (UB) puts a recent open access article by UG authors in the spotlight. This publication is highlighted via social media and the library’s newsletter and website.

The article in the spotlight for the month of June 2021 is titled How soccer scouts identify talented players, written by Tom Bergkamp, Susan Niessen, Rob Meijer, Ruud den Hartigh (all from the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences) and Wouter Frencken (Faculty of Medical Sciences and also Head of Performance at FC Groningen).


Scouts of soccer clubs are often the first to identify talented players. However, there is a lack of research on how these scouts assess and predict overall soccer performance. Therefore, we conducted a large-scaled study to examine the process of talent identification among 125 soccer scouts. Through an online self-report questionnaire, scouts were asked about (1) the players’ age at which they can predict players’ soccer performance, (2) the attributes they consider relevant, and (3) the extent to which they predict performance in a structured manner. 

The most important results are as follows. First, scouts who observed 12-year-old and younger players perceived they could predict at older ages (13.6 years old, on average) whether a player has the potential to become a professional soccer player. This suggests that scouts are aware of the idea that early indicators of later performance are often lacking, yet do advise on selection of players at younger ages. Second, when identifying talented players, scouts considered more easily observable attributes, such as technical attributes. However, scouts described these often in a broad sense rather than in terms of specific predictors of future performance. Finally, scouts reported that they assess attributes of players in a structured manner. Yet, they ultimately based their prediction (i.e. final score) on an intuitive integration of different performance attributes, which is a suboptimal strategy according to existing literature. Taken together, these outcomes provide specific clues to improve the reliability and validity of the scouting process. 

We asked first author Tom Bergkamp a few questions about the article:

This article was published open access, was open access a deliberate choice?

Yes, sort of… I have to admit that I didn’t choose to submit my article to this journal specifically because it offered an option to publish open access. But when a journal does offer this option, I always choose it. Luckily, this was an option for all of my papers so far.

I also do consider it important: the idea of transferring the copyright of my hard work to a major publisher, who could potentially earn money off of it, seems strange to me. Plus, nothing is more annoying than finding an interesting article and running into a paywall. Finally, I believe that open access articles typically get more views and citations than non-open articles.

The article was published under the terms of the CC-BY-NC-ND (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives) license. Why did you choose this license?

This journal only offered two options: CC-BY-NC-ND and CC-BY. The latter lets your article be used for commercial purposes, which I didn’t want. I noticed that CC-BY-NC-ND is relatively restricted, as it doesn’t let your article be adapted (e.g. translated, remixed). I believe this is possible with the CC-BY-NC license, which I would have chosen if given the option.

You have also made the dataset associated with the main analyses openly available, it can be accessed through a Dataverse repository (, without restrictions and for anyone to use. Why did you decide to do this?

I simply think making your data public is part of good and ethical research practices, nowadays. Probably every social scientist is aware of the reproducibility crisis in the social sciences. Making my dataset publicly available for other researchers to download and analyze is a relatively easy step to contribute to open and reproducible science. Plus, it would be hypocritical for me not to make the dataset public, given the excellent work on the topic of reproducibility by my department colleagues and their efforts to promote open science.

This research was partially funded by the Royal Dutch Football Association (Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond, KNVB). Did the KNVB have any wishes or requirements regarding the open access publication of the article?

No, they did not, but I believe that they are glad that my articles are open access. I study talent identification in soccer, and my research is relatively applied. This article in particular involved the perceptions of soccer scouts, and can be described as an applied study. By making the study open access, the KNVB can easily share it with all interested audiences, such as soccer coaches, scouts, players, and clubs. For example, it was shared on Twitter by a staff member of the KNVB and got a lot of response and feedback, which was nice to see.

Could you reflect on your experiences with open access and open science in general?

I won’t pretend that I’m ‘ahead of the pack’ in promoting open science: I don’t have elaborate discussions with colleagues on publishing open access, nor am I the first one to speak up when discussing open science initiatives. I also felt kind of indifferent to it when I started my PhD. However, I believe the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences (through various courses and initiatives, such as the mandatory PhD course on ethical research) has done a good job of showing the importance and benefits of open science. The university has also made it possible to easily adopt open science practices in my workflow: for instance, checking for which journals the university covers the ‘article processing charges,’ and subsequently making the arrangement to cover these charges has been easy and straightforward in all instances.

So, while I’m not at the forefront of promoting open science, I do feel that these principles are very important, and I try to integrate them in my work as much as possible.

Someone called Bergkamp writing about soccer; I have to ask what many people probably have asked you before: are you related to the famous Dutch soccer player Dennis Bergkamp?

Yes, many people have asked me that question, haha. And believe it or not, I actually am related to him! However, he’s a very distant relative, and I’ve never met him in person (unfortunately, he never showed up at family get-togethers ;) ). 

Useful links:

Open Science Community Groningen (OSCG): community of scientists that aims to facilitate large-scale adoption of open, reproducible and responsible science practices within the University of Groningen (UG) and the University Medical Center (UMCG). 

ReproducibiliTea: meeting series about open and reproducible science, organized by the OSCG 

The six types of Creative Commons licenses:

A Guide to Creative Commons for Scholarly Publications and Educational Resources


Bergkamp, T. L. G., Frencken, W. G. P., Niessen, A. S. M., Meijer, R. R., & den Hartigh, R. J. R. (2021). How soccer scouts identify talented players. European Journal of Sport Science, 1–11. doi:10.1080/17461391.2021.1916081

If you would like us to highlight your open access publication here, please get in touch with us.

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Open Access Team
The Open Access team of the University of Groningen Library

Link: /openaccess
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