There is a large variation in physical maturity in youth athletes undergoing puberty. Traditionally youth athletes have been divided by age and body mass in order to minimise injury risk, however this can disadvantage the less physically mature athletes. Early physically developing players can be preferentially selected, overlooking potential technical skills in other players. Bio-banding groups youth athletes into “bands” based on characteristics other than chronological age. It has been found that bio-banded competition can expose early developers to the challenges typically experience by late developers, and late developers are enabled to demonstrate technical play and tactics.
A recent study1 of Premier League academy players compared differences in physical and technical performance during bio-banded and chronological football competition. The athletes aged 11-15 years were divided into early, on-time and late developers using Maturity Z scores. The athletes completed a bio-banded competition format, followed by a chronological competition format, with physical and technical performance metrics measured. Physical features included total distance travelled, high-speed running distance, explosive distance and rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Technical performance included goal shot, short pass, long pass, cross, dribble and tackling.
Early developers produced significantly higher RPE during bio-banded competition that chronological competition, suggesting the need to work harder for the same play, while late developers found bio-banded competition less physically demanding. Bio-banded competition also showed an increased frequency of short passes in early and on-time developers, and a decrease in long passes for late or on-time developers. There was an increase in tackles by late developers in bio-banded competition. Dribbles increased in on-time developers and decreased in early developers. It is likely that the more uniform strength of bio-banded players allowed tacking behaviour to emerge, and the opportunity for early developers to dribble around less physically mature players was reduced. The use of short passes to move the ball around, rather than characteristic long passes to more physically developed players, also demonstrates a changed technical game.
Limitations of this study are the small sample size and players being of Premier League level, meaning results may not be applicable to all youth levels. The players only completed one of each of the types of competition, which doesn’t account for match-to-match variability or allow position specific analysis.
The potential utility of bio-banding in youth football for appropriate training loads, injury prevention and fitness assessment during puberty is worth investigating further. Bio-banding competition can be used as an adjunct to chronological age competition to develop technical skill performance in youth football.
11. Abbott W, Williams S, Brickley G, Smeeton N.J. Effects of Bio-Banding upon Physical and Technical Performance during Soccer Competition: A Preliminary Analysis. Sports 2019, 7, 193.