How Big Data is changing Talent Identification and Talent Development in Soccer

The use of data is playing an increasing role in talent identification and development. Data collection and analysis can be as simplistic as the technical, tactical, physical and mental assessments used by Dutch club AZ Alkmaar  within their academy (Learn More)  or the sophisticated data model utilized by S.L. Benfica Learn More. 


In the modern game the high cost of acquiring talent can exceed over 100 million Euros. This has forced clubs like Benfica to shift their focus to developing their own talent. At Benfica, sensors are deployed on the training pitches to close track an individual players player movement, speed, agility and heart rates. Sleep patterns and nutrition is also closely monitored to identify trends, patterns and the relationships between players habits and their performances on the field.  This data is then used to develop individualized training plans for players to further develop their strengths and also improve weaknesses. Predictive analysis is also used to help determine any potential injuries. At Benfica and many other top clubs, data is becoming the cornerstone of the clubs talent identification and development strategies.


Player ID Events


The increased use of data for talent identification and development is not only confined to Europe. In March 2018, US Soccer announced that it was purchasing 6,500 GPS units for their men’s and women’s national programs and the youth players in US Soccer Development academies. Coaches from MLS team Atlanta United are also using this type of technology to accelerate the development of their “prospect players” who have been deemed as the most likely to progress to their senior MLS squad. The data is used to track the development of the players and gauge how much they can be pushed in terms of training loads (volume) and intensity of training.

So, how can players outside professional academies in Europe or North America benefit from this type of technology? Players can purchase their own individual GPS vest and heart monitors and take ownership of their own development process. GPS vests can be purchased individually for as low as $200.00 which will allow players to visualize their pitch movements and  track how far they run, how fast, where they go on the pitch, how many sprints they made and how long they are sprinting for during each game or training session.  It will also allow players to benchmark their metrics against players that play in their positions at the professional level.

For example, professional attackers run 21% quicker than amateur players – the average max speeds of professional attackers equal 9.2 metres per second, compared to 7.58 metres per second for a player at the amateur level. Some attackers, such as Southampton’s Shane Long, Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford achieve higher than this and achieve speeds of between 9.75 – 9.8 metres per second. (*Playertek) 

Heart monitors can also be purchased individually by players. The youth players at US Soccer wear both GPS vests and heart monitors as two separate units).

The key metrics that can be used for talent identification and development using GPS data and heart monitors are:

Maximum Speed

Heart Rate

Distance Covered

Heart Rate Thresholds

Average Speed

Average Heart Rates

A successful training session provides players with stimuli for development – while not overloading it too much. Players themselves can now measure their own reaction to training and together with their coaches, can adapt training loads to match their capabilities and what they require to improve.

Training Impulse (TRIMP)

Training Impulse on graph

The player’s internal training load based on the resting heart rate, maximum heart rate, average heart rate achieved during training, and the training length. This data will help assess a player’s level of internal stress.

A workload which is inappropriately matched to the athlete’s current form can negatively affect his performance during the match or increase the risk of serious injury.

Distance covered

Distance Covered in football, displayed on graph

If within the same training group, the results of a given player significantly deviate from the distance covered by the rest of the team, it may mean that they did not put enough effort into the training. It may also mean that they are displaying the first symptoms of an illness or injury.

* (Source: Sonda Sports)

The increased use of data in talent identification and development has also contributed to players becoming increasingly used to data when evaluating and analyzing their own performance levels. Dutch club AZ Alkmaar  for example strive to identify young players who drive their own development. What clubs are finding is with the increased performance data now available young players are asking coaches for advice on how to improve their strengths and what training activities they can participate in to elevate their current performance levels.

Although soccer is a team game these new technologies can allow players to measure and track their own individual development. This allows them to take more ownership and like golfers and runners compete against themselves to drive their own development forward. Players can not always control the success of their team and after losing matches may not feel as if they are moving forward or that their game is progressing. However, tracking their own individual data can provide them with greater ownership and desire to achieve their soccer goals.