Longitudinal motor performance development in early adolescence and its relationship to adult success: An 8-year prospective study of highly talented soccer players

Daniel Leyhr, Augustin Kelava, Johannes Raabe, Oliver Höner

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42 Scopus citations


Several talent identification and development (TID) programs in soccer have implemented diagnostics to measure players’ motor performance. Yet, there is a lack of research investigating the relationship between motor development in adolescence and future, adult performance. This longitudinal study analyzed the three-year development of highly talented young soccer players’ speed abilities and technical skills and examined the relevance of this development to their adult success. The current research sample consisted of N = 1,134 players born between 1993 and 1995 who were selected for the German Soccer Association’s TID program and participated in nationwide motor diagnostics (sprinting, agility, dribbling, ball control, shooting) four times between the Under 12 (U12) and Under 15 (U15) age class. Relative age (RA) was assessed for all players, and a total motor score was calculated based on performances in the individual tests. In order to investigate players’ future success, participants were divided into two groups according to their adult performance level (APL) in the 2014/2015 season: Elite (1st-5th German division; N = 145, 12.8%) and non-elite players (lower divisions; N = 989, 87.2%). Using multilevel regression analyses each motor performance was predicted by Time, Time2 (level-1 predictors), APL, and RA (level-2 covariates) with simultaneous consideration for interaction effects between the respective variables. Time and Time2 were significant predictors for each test performance. A predictive value for RA was confirmed for sprinting and the total motor score. A significant relationship between APL and the motor score as well as between APL and agility, dribbling, ball control, and shooting emerged. Interaction effects distinctly failed to reach significance. The study found a non-linear improvement in players’ performance for all considered motor performance factors over a three-year period from early to middle adolescence. While their predictive value for future success was confirmed by a significant relationship between APL and most of the considered factors, there was no significant interaction between APL and Time. These findings indicate that future elite players had already been better at the beginning of the TID program and maintained this high level throughout their promotion from U12 to U15.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0196324
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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