Training Ground Guru | Using data to analyze and increase player graduation rates in academies

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Written by Simon Austin – July 5, 2022

Over the past decade, the Performance Management Application (PMA) has become a gold mine of performance and wellbeing data for academies.

The platform was launched as part of EPPP and staff and players use it to collect a range of data. However, as former Premier League youth director Ged Roddy told TGG, there is a lot more that can be done to capitalize on this.

“We set up the PMA as a kind of data repository,” Roddy said. “Ten years later, it’s a resource rich in data but largely untapped.”

Darcy Norman: For most of us, the $300 million endgame in sports science is asking questions about your data and providing answers to improve your process, build better athletes, and improve player development.

Michael Bridges: The EPPP is now 10 years old and I was heavily involved in my previous role in the Premier League. The Premier League is currently undertaking a major review of the impact that EPPP has had across the pyramid and a large part of that is the use of data for player development. This is not only a historical piece but will provide some glimpses of what is possible in the future.

One of the things we looked at with this particular academy that we worked with was dropout rates.

Darcy Norman: As you can see, at U16 level there was this significant break because that’s when clubs start offering scholarships. After understanding the turnover rates, we then wanted to ask: “How do you go from that U10 level to signing a professional contract?”

So we started looking at the different elements of how kids move through the club. As you can see, on average 15 out of 100 kids at U23 level signed professional contracts. We also looked at all the factors that influenced the transition from one age group to another, as well as the relationships between these different metrics.

Michael Bridges: These metrics shed light on some of my own personal experiences as a coach. I can remember a young player I worked with at Brighton under-14s (where Bridges was head of youth development). I felt we were doing a really good job in terms of his development and the areas he was working on.

I then took part in the professional contract talks for the U18s and it opened my eyes. They had a very similar player to this U14 in the U18 and although he was doing fine they decided he couldn’t go on and have a professional career with the club so they didn’t offer him a contract.

I thought, ‘We’re doing things to help this player take those small steps from 14 to 15 to 16, but what are we doing to help him have a long-term pro career? How do we help him take the big step into the pro career?’

We really had to start pushing some of the physical elements with this player, to be able to go from box to box a bit more instead of sitting in front of the back four, and pull back into the tactical-technical areas, which he was already very strong in. That was a big learning curve and a big moment. Did we give him the best opportunity to advance in his career?

That kind of insight into the factors that go into being first-team ready at 14 (above right) would have been very useful to me.

Darcy Norman: We were able to dig in and see how each factor impacted the deal and what the optimal ranges were for each. We looked at data consistency, validity and different ways of looking at the timelines.

Michael Bridges: I can also remember a center forward I worked with who scored a lot of goals in his own age group and had a natural instinct to take him up an age group.

But what we found – and this was more through thought as he went his way – was that we were creating unintended consequences. In the older age group he started to only score with his stronger foot because maybe he wasn’t fast enough to get past the defender anymore and he wasn’t developing those things in his game.

So maybe he needed to play more in his own age group, practice scoring with his weaker foot, shoot from the edge of the box and become more of an all-rounder.

Darcy Norman: These unintended consequences are really interesting. Based on that, we were able to create this Graduation Model Scorecard (below) for the club to guide its decision-making and align the academy on what’s important to it.

Consider what are the most important factors in each age group and how this is changing over time. How should we use this information to influence training focus, planning development, curriculum design, and player benchmarking and evaluation, better educate coaches and staff, and ultimately increase completion rates and develop players?

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