Science and sport have come together in new and historic ways Central Texas.
Lonestar SC and the U.S. Soccer High Performance Department began the first ever bio-banded tournament Saturday at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex. Simply put, teams are created based on a physiological test rather than their age group.
“The idea of bio-banding is just a different perspective,” U.S. Soccer High Performance Director James Bunce said. “We don’t just want coaches just picking the big, strong, fast kids because then that effects the pool at the top of the pyramid. We don’t want any world class talent that is just being overlooked to lose interest in the game.”
Other countries around the world have done similar tournaments and development for boys soccer, but this is the first time girls have ever participated in a bio-banding tournament.
Before the tournament, interested players from Lonestar SC, Dallas Texans and Solar Soccer Club, as well as Houston Dash Youth Girls and Houston Dynamo Youth Boys were tested and players from multiple age groups were put on one team.
The ultimate goal of bio-banding is to spot any late-blooming players that might have slipped through the cracks.
“We’re not telling them something they don’t know,” Bunce said. “(Parents) know their son or daughter is developing differently than someone else’s son or daughter. It’s that finally, we believe there’s a scientific explanation for this and scientific way of chaining the way that looks.”
All the athletes are wearing GPS monitors that monitor motion and amount of energy. Each match is also captured on video, which will be sent to Opta, a sports analytics company, to create a heat map.
Bio-banding isn’t an alternative to the traditional chronological academy system.
Bunce, who previously worked as Head of Athletic Development with Southampton FC in the English Premier League, pointed to his former club as an example of how bio-banding could be integrated into the U.S. Soccer Development Academy system.
Once a week, the chronological teams in the Southampton Academy would be separated into bio-banded teams. Every month or so, those teams would compete in a bio-banded tournament. All other training was done in chronological groups as usual.
“We perceive bio banding as an additional tool for development,” Bunce said. “This is such new science that we’re still trying to figure out what is enough and what isn’t enough. You have to figure out what your players need and create a hybrid method that works.”
Central Texas was chosen because U.S. Soccer was looking for a group that would embrace something new. Plus, the facility in Round Rock is second to none.
The Federation reached out to Lonestar more than five months ago to start training coaches, players and parents about bio-banding though webinars and club visits and announced the tournament earlier this month.
“Lonestar has been in the (Development Academy) since its inception and we’re well respected,” Boys Development Academy Director Victor Pace said. “We’re in an area that has like-minded clubs that might not have the recourses to do something like this. And not all of the academies have boys and girls teams.”
The tournament wraps up with two girls’ games and two boys’ games beginning Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex.
“I’m astonished, humbled and thrilled with the response,” Bunce said. “(The clubs) don’t get anything from doing it except for being part of something interesting and new and all of them welcomed us with open arms. For me, coming to this system has been amazing because people want to embrace the new.”