The ability to regulate their own learning process may be the key factor in whether young footballers ultimately reach the top. The amount they learn during training sessions seems to be at least as important as the number of hours they train. Players from the highest level of Dutch football proved to be the most adept at regulating what they learn. Having a target and a plan as to how to achieve it appears to be the determining factor. These are the findings of research carried out by Tynke Toering, movement scientist at the UMCG/University of Groningen. She will be conferred with a PhD on 11 May 2011 for her research at the University of Groningen.
Self-regulating learning enables individuals to learn more effectively. In the case of footballers, this means that they must know which skills they need to improve and how to go about it, they must have the motivation to improve and they must take the necessary steps to do so. In her research, Toering explored the link between self-regulating learning and the performance level of youth players between the ages of 11 and 17. She also looked into how this affected their attitude to training. Toering studied six aspects: planning (making an implementation plan before undertaking a task), monitoring (checking that everything is going well while carrying out the task), evaluation (assessing the process and result after the task), reflection (translating what they have learned into new behaviour), effort (the willingness to work hard at the task) and self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to succeed at the task).
The research shows that professionals playing at top Dutch football clubs score better at self-regulating learning than amateur footballers. The ‘reflection’ and ‘effort’ aspects are particularly well-developed. Furthermore, the best players within a top team score highest on the ‘reflection’ aspect, despite all players training for the same number of hours. This shows that the best players benefit more from a set number of training sessions than other players. The things that young players learn while training is therefore more important than the number of training sessions they attend.
If young players want to progress, Toering would advise them and their trainers to focus on identifying strengths and weaknesses and setting targets accordingly. Trainers should get to know the players properly in order to adjust their feedback in line with each player’s specific needs. The trainer can encourage players to set a specific goal before each training session and evaluate their performance afterwards. Trainers should give players the opportunity to think for themselves and come up with solutions, instead of providing ready-made solutions themselves. This will create a learning environment that enables players to take a pro-active part in their learning process.
Tynke Toering (Leeuwarden, 1982) studied Psychology and Human Movement Sciences at the University of Groningen. She carried out her research at the Interfaculty Centre for Human Movement Sciences of the University Medical Centre Groningen/University of Groningen. Toering’s research was funded by the NOC*NSF, and her thesis is entitled ‘Self-regulation of learning and the performance level of youth soccer players’. She is currently working as a researcher at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and for the Norwegian Centre of Football Excellence in Oslo.
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