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Ability to choose position determines football career success

26 May 2010

Tactical skills play an important role in the development of sporting talent. Qualities such as ‘choosing position’ and ‘decision-making ability’ turn out to be crucial in a successful career in professional football. This has been revealed by research by movement scientist Rianne Kannekens on 389 talented youth footballers aged 14-18 and 37 footballers from national youth football teams aged 18-23. She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 2 June 2010.

Kannekens investigated the importance of tactical skills when developing talent. She used questionnaires to examine four aspects: insight into ball actions, insight into other’s play, choosing position and decision-making, and coping with change.

Predicting talent

Her research reveals that the tactical skills ‘choosing position and decision-making’ are strongly related to the future sporting level. In football, a high score on these precise skills can in 70% of cases correctly predict whether an 18-year-old talented player will become a professional player or not. This percentage rises to 80% for mid-fielders.

Field position

Kannekens’s analysis also reveals that the youths scored differently on various tactical skills, depending on their position on the field. Defenders, for example, scored highest on the skill ‘coping with change’, mid-fielders best on ‘choosing position and decision-making’, and strikers scored highest on ‘insight into ball actions’.

Tactical skills test

Kannekens’s research is a first step towards more insight into the role of tactical skills within talent development. Kannekens is in favour of a test that measures tactical skills during football matches. Such a test would provide even more insight into the process of talent recognition and talent development. The test should be able to measure the chances of performing the right action at the right moment and determine whether a player performed the action successfully. Kannekens’s research was financed by NOC*NSF.

Curriculum vitae

Rianne Kannekens (Zwolle, 1981) studied movement sciences at the University of Groningen. She conducted her thesis research at the Interfaculty Centre for Movement Sciences of the University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen. Her supervisor was Prof. C. Visscher. Her thesis is entitled The importance of tactical skills in talent development. Kannekens is currently a lecturer at the Institute of Sport and Movement Studies at the Arnhem/Nijmegen University of Applied Sciences.

Note for the press

Contact: for more information please contact the press officers of the University Medical Center, tel. 050-361 2200

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.58 a.m.
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