From childhood to senior professional football: A multi-level approach to elite youth football players' engagement in football-specific activities

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Objectives:The main aim of this study was to identify the development of engagement in football-specific activities of elite youth association football (soccer) players who have made the transition to senior professional status or not.Design:Comparative research design.Method:Data were collected from all elite youth players (N = 745) within the age-range of 14–21 years from all Norwegian Premier League clubs, using a retrospective questionnaire. A within elite-group comparison of players who had obtained a senior professional contract or not was conducted by using multi-level modeling (n = 491).Results:The results showed that although the professional players reported to have accumulated more overall practice hours than non-professionals from ages 6 to 19 years, none of these differences were significant. The professional players reported to have accumulated significantly more hours in play and coach-led practice at the youngest age categories. No significant differences were identified at older age categories or for other types of football-specific practice at any age.Conclusions:Differences in performance attainment may be due to variation in the amount and types of football practice at the earliest years of participation, but may also be related to other factors than the number of hours spent in certain football-specific activities. We argue that implementation of multi-level modeling represents an important progression within practice history research, and is necessary to account for the actual individual's development over time in addition to identify how different variables may affect the developmental process.Highlights:First practice history study to implement multilevel modeling.Performance level may relate to football practice engagement at younger ages.Football-specific coach-led and play activities seem particularly important.Results of this study emphasize the importance of practice quality and timing.Players rated deliberate activities as most relevant for developing skills.

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