Pathways to Expert Performance in Soccer

David Hendry, Nicola J. Hodges

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In sport, deliberate practice theory has significantly impacted research on expertise and what has been known as talent/skill development. A wealth of data shows how practice volume distinguishes across groups that vary in their level of skill attained. This theory has led to models of skill development which vary in their emphasis on early or late engagement in deliberate practice and early engagement in play and diversified sport involvement as compared to practice. Deliberate practice theory has been widely studied in dynamic team sports, such as soccer. Here we review research from work we have conducted over the past six years, based on comparisons of highly elite male and female soccer players. We have evaluated prospectively and cross-sectionally, the developmental activities most related to successful transitions and adult success at the highest level of sport, as well as relations between these activities and technical and tactical skills development and indices of motivation. Our data show that successful, adult elite athletes, in the UK and Canada, are defined by what is termed the early engagement pathway. This is characterized by majority engagement in the chosen sport since early childhood, although not exclusive engagement, and engagement in relatively high volumes of self-directed play, in addition to high volumes of more formal, structured practice. We discuss issues with some of this research, including those related to measurement, and present ideas for future research based against the backdrop of the deliberate practice framework.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Expertise
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


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