Friday, August 29, 2008

Cutting-Edge Research: Impacting Tournament Performance

Team performance at a youth soccer tournament can be influenced by a multitude of variables. During training, coaches often coaches focus on the physical and cognative aspects of the came and the development of technical and tactical skills. However, there is an array of psychological and sociological factors that affect youth players and can play a key roll in determining the success of the team. Issues such as relationships among team members and with the coaching staff, individual and team expectations and goals as well as organizational challenges. To identify the specific variables that affected tournament teams, Drs. Matthew Pain and Chris Harwood of Loughborough University set out to describe the “performance environment” of English youth soccer teams. This environment included a number of psychosocial variables, many of which seem to have a strong positive impact on tournament performance. The article appears in the August 2008 issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences.

The researchers surveys 82 male players who had represented England at international youth tournaments over a two year period. Their average age was 16 years. The investigators also surveyed 23 staff members (coaches and support staff), all of whom had considerable experience at the national and international level.

Using the Performance Environment Survey, several variables in the psychosocial realm were surveyed. Players and staff were asked to evaluate 38 variables, noting if they affected performance “very much so”, “somewhat” or “not at all”. For example, one variable was phrased as “”I fully understood my role on the team”. Variables identified by a large majority as “very much so” were considered as having a positive impact on performance.

The researchers found that both players and staff felt that team cohesion and the presence of a strong team leader have the most positive impact on performance. The players felt that understanding the team goals, their individual role on the team and the demands of their position are also important factors for success. In this regard, the players emphasized the need for clear communication by the coach. Lastly positive fan support (parents and friends) was identified by the players as an important variable.

The staff noted their concern for hydration, nutrition and recovery strategies and the need to be organized as far as transportation, meals.

Overall, these players and staff felt that the key factors for success fell in the team / social domain. In particular, team cohesion, a strong team leader and player-coach communication were identified as the most important performance factors. The players were less concerned with variables that they could not control (e.g. transportation, hotel accommodations).

It should be pointed out that this survey included elite players participating in international-level tournaments. Thus, the results may not be directly applicable to youth players participating in club tournaments. However, the information can be instructive in preparing club teams for an upcoming tournament (or the upcoming season) It’s clear that coaches could maximize performance by:
  1. Working to develop team cohesion, possibly through social activities before and during the tournament.
  2. Fostering the development of strong team leaders by encouraging players to take on leadership roles within the team.
  3. Clearly communicating with players. Insuring that they understand their role on the team as well as the team goals and individual player expectations.
  4. Encouraging enthusiastic and positive spectator support.

Parents and administrators can aid the staff by taking care of all of the non-soccer details of a tournament. They can provide strong organization by insuring that details such as transportation to and from the venue are covered and post-match drinks and meals are arranged.

Overall, this study identifies several psychosocial variables that impact tournament performance. It also provides a few guidelines for coaches and administrators whrn preparing for upcoming tournaments.

Reference:

Pain MA, Harwood CG (2008) the performance environment of the England youth soccer teams: A quantitative investigation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 13:1-13.