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Is there a way to athlete deselection right?

Is there a way to do athlete (de)selection right?

4 min read
  • Sport psychology

Deselection is all too common in elite and amateur sport – and that’s no different in football. As performance and sport psychologists, it’s something we also come across often in our work with our clients.

So, what are the mechanisms at play in selection and deselection in football? How can coaches approach it in the best way? Here’s what we know from our experience and what the research says about it.

Is the selective process as objective as it seems?

Whether it’s academy football or just in schools, selecting players is not an easy process. There are many different things coaches and team managers must consider before deciding who they want their final players to be.

Whilst it’s important to look at the players’ physical abilities and current potential, coaches also have a job to assess the future potential of the athletes – and that’s where things get somewhat subjective.

What does the research say?

1. Subjective assesments

These are assessments made by coaches to measure players’ technical and tactical abilities as well as their overall potential. These assessments are based on the coaches’ beliefs and perceptions.

The academy observed in the paper employed a Red, Amber and Green (RAG) rating system as standard practice for subjective grading. If an athlete was rated as red, they were performing below the expected standards. If they were rated green, they were performing to the expected standards of the academy.

2. Weekly subjective gradings

Every week, players were graded on their current performance. There was a strong focus on technical and tactical abilities by the lead coach. The RAG system was used to rate each footballer, and after the season was finished, each weekly score was tallied into the amount of red, ambers and greens a player had.

3. Quarterly subjective grading

Every three months, further assessments took place to identify a player’s perceived future potential. This grading was determined by a player’s holistic ability such as their psychological, social, physical, technical and tactile abilities.

A coach must look at how well the players have progressed in these areas over the season and how well they believe they will progress in these areas over future seasons.

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How accurately did these factors determine selection/deselection?

The results of this study showed that, as expected, a higher number of red grades had a greater association with deselection, while a higher number of green grades was associated with selection.

This means a coach’s intuition is a capable tool when it comes to player (de)selection. However, the same coaches who graded the players were also the coaches who (de)selected them, therefore there may be some bias around this. To remove this, coaches could explore more objective measures such as having multiple input from additional staff.

Whilst coaches in the study were capable of distinguishing players at either extremity of performance, whether this be top performing or bottom, it showed that coaches may display indecision concerning players of moderate abilities. Players that received orange grades were seen as a middle-ground, making it harder to decide whether they should be selected or deselected. To solve this problem, the RAG grading system could be sub-divided into more categories to allow for more clarity when rating players.

Weekly and quarterly gradings showed that the top-performing athletes had a more consistent playing performance in comparison to mid- and lower-performing players. This allowed coaches to identify “high potential” players in the final quarter of assessment once a performance pattern had been identified, but not in the earlier weeks.

3 tips for (de)selecting players

The (de)selection process is not easy an easy task for coaches to do. Here are a few tips from the research that may help:

  1. Make sure you have input from multiple people when grading your players to avoid bias.
  2. Include sub-divisions in your grading system to provide more clarity when rating moderately-performing players.
  3. Don’t write players off until the end of the (de)selection process. It’s mostly in the final few weeks that coaches recognise patterns in player performance that allows them to decide who should be (de)selected.

Final thoughts

There is no perfect method for the (de)selection process, but there are ways to improve it to ensure coaches choose the right athletes for the team. Using these types of grading systems allows coaches to identify the strengths and weaknesses of players and build a better understanding of whether they should be on the squad or not. While the (de)selection process might not be the most straightforward, following these tips can help it to run more smoothly.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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