How does US Soccer measure improvement?

“Program Demonstrates Player Development Improvement in Short Two Year History”

Excerpt from a recent article about the Development Academy program. Read full article here…

First off, congrats to US Soccer and specifically the team responsible for pulling the Development Academy together.  Having seen the quality first hand it really does seem to be delivering on it’s promise to raise the level of soccer in the US.

Since I have seen the progress myself, I was less interested in the fact that players were developing, and more interested in how US Soccer was tracking and measuring that improvement.  The answer:  SPARQ testing results and ProZone game analysis.

“ProZone video analysis has demonstrated that the level of play has improved since the first year of the program, as analysis of footage from the Winter Showcases in 2007-08 and 2008-09 has recorded improved passing efficiency, more one touch passes, more sophisticated passing tactics and improved shooting accuracy. Additionally, SPARQ analysis has demonstrated that player athleticism is improving over the course of an Academy season as average scores in all four of the soccer-specific athletic tests conducted by SPARQ increased from the Winter to the Spring Showcases in 2008-09.”

Scores, efficiency, accuracy… all measures that are quantifiable.  Unlike other major sports, the box score of a soccer game doesn’t tell you much about individual players.  A player can dominate a game without showing up anywhere on the score sheet.  This makes it difficult to objectively measure player development and has traditionally been left up to the subjective eyes of coaches.  It’s great to see innovative new ways to do this because objective analysis is the first step to improving.  How can you really know if you’ve improved if you don’t have a start and an end measurement?  If you wanted to lose weight, what’s the first thing you would do?  Hop on a scale and see how much you weigh.  If you want to check your progress what would you do?  Hop on the scale again and note the difference.  Want to type faster?  Test your words per minute, practice, practice, practice, then test yourself again.

You get the point.  Without a standardized measuring stick it’s impossible to measure tangible results.  You might know you lost weight because you look thinner.  You may know you type faster because it takes you less time to punch out an email, but “a little improvement” or “a lot better” isn’t very specific and once you start generalizing about a team, club, state or entire country it is basically impossible to make subjective statements about player development without standardized metrics.

For US Soccer to justify its investment and compare its various player development programs it needs ways to compare them.  If the success of a program such as the Development Academy or the Residency Program is based on how much players improve then they clearly need ways to measure player development.  This brings us back to SPARQ physical testing and ProZone game analysis.  SPARQ provides a means to measure individual player physical strength and athleticism and ProZone breaks down game video to quantify the quality of play.  Hmmm, what other metrics could be used to benchmark and measure the success of player development programs?  Technical ability is the foundation of every player, and arguably the most important aspect of youth player development, why not measure that?

Our mission at iSoccer is to raise the level of the game.  For a player, team, club, league or national federation, the first step to raising the level is knowing and understanding the current level.  From there it’s possible to set goals and regularly measure incremental progress (rather than trying to compare subjective evaluations, game stats, and other similarly ambiguous metrics).  SPARQ, ProZone and iSoccer all provide valuable data to assess, analyze, and target player development efforts.  We’re excited to see what story our technical assessment data tells as more and more players and coaches submit scores from around the world.  If you have any ideas or comments let us know what you think.