Essay: What makes a good soccer player

Soccer is one of the most popular and most played sports in the world. A very important aspect in every sport, and also in soccer, is youth development and identification. Anticipation is a key parameter in the field of youth development and identification. Soccer players has to deal with a complex and quickly changing environment. Before deciding what action is required in a specific situation players have to pick up information from the ball, opponents and teammates. Opponents try to restrict ‘time’ and ‘space’ that is available to make that decision. This `temporal pressure’ suggests that a part of the total performance of a soccer player is dependent on his ability to anticipate on future soccer situations. Consider, for instance, the calmness a world class midfield player has when receiving and passing the ball, suggesting he has ‘all the time in the world’. The ability to anticipate on future events distinguishes skilled from less skilled soccer players (Williams, 2000).
The way a soccer player uses visual information could be a good indicator to predict talent (Savelsbergh, Haans, Kooijman & van Kampen, 2010). According to Savelsbergh et al. (2010) differences in visual search and locomotion behaviour can be a good and usable indicator to
Identify young talented soccer players.
The Royal Dutch Soccer Federation (KNVB)(Dokter, 1993) uses the terms insight and awareness to explain how good a player uses visual information. Savelsbergh, Onrust, Rouwenhorst, & van der Kamp (2006) and Savelsbergh et al. (2010) used the term skill in perception. In many sports athletes have to intercept, catch or hit a fast moving ball. To do this action correctly, the athletes have to hit or catch the ball at the right place and the right time (Caljouw, van der Kamp, & Savelsbergh, 2004a; Caljouw, van der Kamp, & Savelsbergh, 2004b; Savelsbergh, Whiting, & Bootsma, 1991). Important to successfully perform this kind of action is skill in perception and the accurate and efficient execution of the movement pattern (Williams, Davids, & Williams, 1999). The contribution of visual information is equally important as the motor skills. (Savelsbergh et al., 2006; Savelsbergh, van der Kamp, Williams, & Ward, 2005; Savelsbergh, Williams, van der Kamp, & Ward, 2002; Williams & Elliot, 1999). For that reason is the performance output form an athlete a contribution of skill in perception and the available motor skills. It has become clear that skill in perception is an important subject in sports and in particular soccer expertise (Abernethy, Thomas & Thomas, 1993; Starkes and Allard, 1993; Williams & Elliot, 1999).
In the last decade several researchers examined the skill of perception extensively. A well-used method in examining skill perception is to ask participants to predict the end result of video clips. Those videos show more or less predictive information from the opponent’s body or the ball’s flight path. Their findings show that experts possess superior anticipatory skills compared to their novice counterparts (Abernethy & Russel, 1987; Helsen & Starkes, 1999; Savelsbergh et al., 2002; Ward & Williams, 2003; Williams & Davids, 1998; Williams, Davids, Burwitz, & Williams, 1994; Williams & Elliot, 1999). Research shows that the ability to pick up advance information from visual sources appears to be the fundamental difference between experts and novices (Abernethy & Russel, 1987; Helsen & Starkes, 1999; Savelsbergh et al., 2002, 2005; Williams & Elliot, 1999). Elite soccer players have developed an extensive soccer-specific knowledge base that enables them to recognize meaningful associations between the position and movement of players in game situations (Savelsbergh et al., 2006; Williams et al., 1994). How the athlete uses information is essential. (Abernethy & Russel, 1987; Savelsbergh et al., 2006). This perception action perspective is based on the ideas of Gibson (1979), who suggested that movement control is based on a continuous coupling to available perceptual information, which is presumed to evolve over time (Savelsbergh & van der Kamp, 2000; Savelsbergh et al., 2006).
The Royal Dutch Soccer Federation has a pronounced vision on developing young soccer players. The basic idea is that when players are motivated practicing their sport, they will learn more from it and therefore become a better soccer player (Dokter, 1993). Dokter (1993) emphasize that from soccer training the most enjoyment can be gained in situations where players can score as much as possible and have to prevent the opponent from scoring a goal. On a full size pitch children don’t have enough touches of the ball and therefore don’t learn enough. The opinion of Dokter (1993) is as follow: ‘We suggest that children up to the age of 11 should play games with smaller sides and on smaller fields. This way the young soccer players have more ball contacts and in match situation this improves their vision’ (Dokter, 1993). This vision of the Royal Dutch Soccer federation leads to the well-known small sided game 4 against 4. Dokter (1993) says that 4 against 4 is the smallest way of playing the game without losing any of the ingredients that makes soccer the game as it is. He says that all the skills can be developed, which are: technical, motor skills, physical, game insight, awareness (vision) and communication.
Within the field of research the use of small-sided games in soccer as a means of developing young players is well documented (Carling, 2010; Casamichana & Castellano, 2010; Dellal, Chamari, Owen, Wong, Lago-Penas & Hill-Haas, 2011; Hill-Haas, Coutts, Dawson, & Rowsell, 2010; Rampinini, Impellizzerri, Castagna, Abt, Chamari, Sassi, 2007). In these studies the manipulation of pitch size, number of players, verbal encouragement and rule changes within small-sided games have been investigated in a wide range of different participants. This manipulation is in order to investigate the differences between the physical load during small-sided games and matches. They measured heart rate responses, distance covered, velocity and acceleration during small-sided games (Dellal, Chamari, Pintus, Girard, Cotte & Keller, 2008; Hill-Haas et al., 2010; Jones & Drust, 2007; Little & Williams, 2006; Owen, Twist, & Ford,2004; Rampinini et al., 2007). Small-sided games with various rule changes have been suggested to be a way of exposing players to match-specific situations (Jones & Drust, 2007). Soccer players constantly exposed to these various situations in small-sided games have been suggested to improve their decision-making skills, technical skills, tactical knowledge and physical conditioning (Owen, Wong, McKenna, & Dellal, 2011). Owen et al. (2011) investigated number of block, headers, interceptions, passes, dribbles, shots and tackles in small-sided games. Compared to large games, small-sided games induced significantly lesser total ball contacts per games but significantly greater ball contacts per individual (Owen et al., 2011).
When comparing small-sided games with match play, few studies have attempted to report the different demands placed upon the players.
In this context, Gabbett & Mulvey (2008) studied the movement patterns of small-sided games with elite women soccer players. They compared their training results with domestic, national and international standard matches. These authors reported that both the 3 vs 3 and 5 vs 5 small-sided games recreated match-play physical activity but presented an insufficient training stimulus to simulate the intensity and repeated-sprint demands of a standard competition match. In the research field of small-sided games compared with large sided games in skilled perception it’s still unknown whether the performance is correlated. Especially studies of skilled perception of young soccer player. The aim of this study is to investigate the difference in performance of young soccer players between small-sided games and competition matches. The correlation will be calculated between skilled perception indicators of small-sided games and competition matches. For that purpose a performance scoring list is developed. This scoring list measures the performance output of the soccer player which can be indirectly related to skill in perception. It is hypothesized that the performance measured by the scoring list in 4 vs 4 and 11 vs 11 in performance should show a significant correlation.

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