Methods of assessing soccer players’ performance have developed significantly in recent times. The fitness profiles and skill levels of a prospective elite soccer player is a valuable resource for coaches in the process of identifying talent.
PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to use a battery of validated sport-specific tests to identify elite talent among youth international soccer players in Hong Kong.
METHODS: International soccer players from the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) youth academy (U-19) squad took part in this study. Following two familiarization trials using the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test (LSPT), the exercise protocol consisted of a standardized 10 minute dynamic warm-up, followed by baseline LSPT measurements. Then, each participant completed a validated, soccer-specific, repeated-sprint ability test (RSA) in order to induce game-specific, short-term fatigue. Upon completion of the RSA, each participant was immediately re-tested on the LSPT. Each participant then completed a vertical jump (VJ) test and finally, the yo-yo intermittent recovery test level 2 (YYIR2). Heart-rate (HR) monitors were used to monitor exercise intensity. Data was analysed using SPSS (v. 20).
RESULTS: 30 youth (U-19) HKFA international squad members took part in this study (mean ± SD: age 18 ± 0.8y; height 1.73 ± 0.5m; body mass 64.3 ± 8.5kg). The re-test scores of the LSPT indicated that 6 of participants (20%) maintained their skill performance, in spite of a significantly elevated heart rate induced by the RSA; i.e. no significant differences were observed in any of the movement (mov), penalty (pen) or total (tot) time taken to complete the LSPT between the pre- and post-RSA scores (Mov: pre 48.2 ± 2.9s, post 48.0 ± 2.1s; Pen: pre 5.9 ± 7.5s post 6.5 ± 8.4s; Tot: pre 54.1 ± 8.4s, post 54.5 ± 10.6s, p > 0.05). Vertical jump scores were 106.6 ± 8.5 cm. Participants completed 10.9 ± 2.9 stages of the YYIR2, with those above the 86 percentile completing greater than 13.5 stages.
CONCLUSIONS: This study highlights the ability of validated sports-specific tests to effectively identify elite level talent among international youth soccer players. Each of LSPT, RSA and YYIR2 scores proved sensitive in separating the top quartile of elite level players from the remainder of the squad, while the VJ did not.