With the advent of the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) in 2013, some unique challenges have arisen for coaches working in the league, as well as in the top tier soccer programs in Ontario (Regional, Provincial, and National teams). Because the OPDL has been set up as a standards-based, “high performance” league in Ontario, and because the high performance player pathway in the province will now involve players being selected into the Regional/Provincial and National programs directly from the league, the identification and monitoring of talented players in the OPDL is of paramount importance. One unique step that the Ontario Soccer Association has taken which can be of use to help coaches in the talent identification process is the introduction in 2014 of their “Technical Benchmark Exercises”. Created for use with U12 and U13 players, these exercises comprise a standardized, objective method of technical skill assessment that can be administered by a coach to a team of up to 24 players, in less than 2 hours (1 practice session). These exercises were not created with talent identification in mind, but I believe they can be useful to help identify talent because they are standardized and objective. It should be noted that in the OSA’s description of these exercises, they state that the exercises:
“are geared towards motivating players to spend time on their own, improve their ball control, short range passing, speed and agility with the ball, and, the use of their instep for driven balls and shooting. A player that controls the ball is a player that helps control the tempo of the game and contributes to the team’s tactical abilities.”
Among the technical abilities assessed are:
- Head juggling
- Ball mastery
- Dribbling and turning
- Controlled running with the ball
- Passing and receiving
- Power shooting
- Driven long balls
- (GK’s only) Hand ball distribution
As a sport scientist, I like the idea of standardized measurement of ability. At Soccer Fitness, everything we do is standardized, including all our soccer-specific fitness assessments, the workloads/intensities of our training sessions, and even our rest and recovery protocols. The advantages of a standardized technical skills assessment protocol like the one the OSA has developed is that it will prevent coaches’ subjective opinions (and possible bias) from influencing the decisions they make about players’ abilities. Also of great value is the establishment of “baseline” scores and standards/norms for the test scores. These standards and norms can help all players and coaches to set goals and try to beat their previous scores, and eventually (once enough data has been collected) they can also be used to establish technical standards for the OPDL and the higher level programs into which players from the OPDL will be selected.
In their official document, the OSA also states that the goals of their Technical Benchmark Exercises are to:
- Measure fundamental technical skills at the Youth National Team level
- Measure fundamental technical skills at the Club level
- Use results as feedback to players on skills to improve
- Encourage players to spend time on their own mastering the ball
- Test players thee (3) times a year; to provide feedback and personal reward for measurable improvement.
Of course, the process of talent identification cannot simply rely on the measurement of technical skills. Coaches must be able to assess many different abilities, some of which are difficult or even impossible to objectively measure, including tactical/positional play, game intelligence, decision making ability, and personality/attitude. The OSA’s establishment of Technical Benchmark Exercises, however, will provide coaches and players with a useful tool with which they can objectively measure their technical skills, and the exercises should be helpful for coaches to identify talented young players from the high performance pathways in Ontario. Below is a link the the PDF file of the Technical Benchmark Exercises from the Ontario Soccer Association’s website:
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.