May 19, 2021

How data can change the future of talent identification


Tiziana Hoell


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What if a random person on the street can identify sports talent almost as well as a professional scout or coach? What if our ability to find talent and predict future performance is just not as good as we all think? And how can data identify talent instead of mainly using human instinct?

In order to funnel more players through their system, Premier League clubs are scouting players as young as six years old. It’s no wonder that this results in a dropout rate of 99% across all academy players in England. This often leads to crushed dreams and identity crises at a young age. Dropped by their academies those young players struggle with damaged mental health and sometimes descent into crime (learn more here). But why does a player need to be "pro-ready" at such an early age anyway?

Talent identification is the holy grail of sports. Some of the biggest sports stars such as Ronaldo de Lima, Michael Jordan or Antoine Griezmann almost didn’t make it because of their height, financial resources or just a weak year in their youth career. Today we know that these athletes possessed tremendous potential, but for different reasons went unnoticed because their future ability wasn’t as obvious at the time. How can we avoid missing future superstars?

Professor Dr Joe Baker of York University, who specialised in Talent Selection, created a study which asked the question: how capable is the average person on the street at identifying talent?

Interviewers stopped random people on the streets of a German city, asking them to watch a short video with high-performance athletes playing. In a short period of time, they then needed to decide if a player was talented or not. The result of the study is astonishing: the average person with no experience in talent scouting had an accuracy of 73% compared to an accuracy of 79% of national coaches and 75% accuracy of regional coaches. So if anybody can identify potential, why does so much talent going unnoticed?

Throughout the last six years, we at Tonsser have tracked more than 11 million performances on the Tonsser app, registered more than 10 million matches and received more than 7 million player of the match votes.

One of the players Tonsser gave new hope was Oliver Sonne, a Danish talent who was tired of playing for his hometown club with seemingly no future in football. For the 17-year-old the goal of becoming a pro seemed almost unreachable. As a last attempt, Sonne downloaded Tonsser and soon his performances stood out. "After a short period people started looking at my profile and started following me and I got more people watching me”, he recalled.

Soon after people in the football industry also started to take notice of Sonne. The central midfielder got the opportunity to go on a trial at Olympique Marseille, which led to a professional contract with FC Copenhagen. Since then he has played at a professional level and recently Sonne signed a contract with Silkeborg IF, a Danish Superliga club.

Stories like the one from Oliver Sonne are the reason why we decided to create Tonsser United in 2018. We want to challenge the current system and leverage the data we get daily from our community.

Tonsser United is a game-changing 21st-century club that offers unsigned youth players life-changing opportunities and an alternative path to unlock their potential. For Tonsser age, height or social background doesn’t affect the chances of a player making it to the Tonsser United team. The whole concept is solely based on the performance data from the app, no matter who the players are or where they come from.

We believe that correctly utilising performance data can change the future of talent identification. Tonsser United is the first step in the right direction.

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