Academic journal article Journal of Physical Education and Sport

An Investigation of Danish Male Youth Football – Is Something Rotten in the State of Denmark?

Academic journal article Journal of Physical Education and Sport

An Investigation of Danish Male Youth Football – Is Something Rotten in the State of Denmark?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Talent identification and talent selection both play a vital role in the pursuit of excellence in football [1]. However, football also represents one of the most competitive and complex sports for reaching expertise [2], which makes talent identification in football particularly difficult. In addition, the game of football is a global phenomenon, like no other in sports, and the recruitment and selection for elite level are thus one of the toughest in modern sport [3-4].

One of the most examined phenomena in talent identification in sport throughout the last two decades is the relative age effect (RAE) [5-6]. RAE has been documented across sports in youth and adult elite levels in a wide range of countries [7-13]. However, RAE has not been heavily investigated in the Nordic countries, countries that generally are characterised as strong welfare states with a large voluntary involvement in spor [14]. An interesting common feature of the Scandinavian countries are a distinct focus on both mass participation and elite, unique to other European countries, which make Scandinavia an interesting context to investigate in regard to RAE. Furthermore, RAE in general are often investigated between clubs, across countries and within elite adult or elite youth sample, but seldom investigated at different levels within the talent development system.

The predominant explanation of RAE is that coaches and scouts 'confuse' maturation with talent, also known as the maturation-hypothesis [15]. This hypothesis assumes that in the earlier stages of talent development relatively older players (birth date in the 1st quarter of the sport's cohort) benefit from an advanced physical and cognitive maturity compared to their younger peers [15-16].

Some empirical evidence suggests that RAE can occur in the entry of sports participation [17-18], while several studies have found RAE to occur in the selection of youth players for higher competitive levels [19-21]. However, researchers have found that RAE diminishes at elite level in some team sports such as handball [6]. To our knowledge, no studies have investigated this diminishing tendency nor has it been associated with professional football.

Thus, the purpose of this study was to investigate the relative age effect in the progression from junior to senior level in samples of Danish male football players. Since investigations of the progression between age groups in youth football are (as previously noted) rare, such a study could provide a more detailed knowledge of a complex phenomenon. Combined with an investigation in a less researched football culture in Europe, characterized by high degrees of voluntary involvement and equal focus on both mass participation and elite football, provides this study with new dimensions concerning RAE.

The Danish football system

As already, mentioned, the Danish sport structure generally attempts to balance mass participation and elite sport development [22]. As other Scandinavian sports, Football in Denmark is traditionally a voluntary activity with a so-called heterarchical organizational structure, where several key factors such as local clubs, professional clubs and volunteers function highly autonomously and initiate their main efforts on their own [14]. Approximately 1100 recreational clubs exist within Danish organized football, players from some of these clubs eventually get identified and recruited for talent clubs (described later) often feeding professional clubs talent development systems.

Volunteerism and non-trained coaches often characterize coaching staff in local and recreational football clubs. Moreover, almost all communities across the country have a football field nearby, making football present throughout Denmark. Thus, football is among the most popular and successful sports in Denmark in terms of youth sport participation (in particular males) and media coverage [23].

The talent development system in Danish youth football is based on clubs applying for a license from the national federation (Danish FA) to be identified as a "talent club". …

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