Practice and play in the development of German top-level professional football players

Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(1):96-105. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.982204. Epub 2014 Dec 2.


This study examined the developmental sporting activities of 52 German football first Bundesliga professionals (including 18 senior national team members) and 50 fourth to sixth league amateur players. They reported their volumes of organised football practice/training, including its "microstructure" (proportions of physical conditioning, skill exercises and playing forms), non-organised leisure football play and engagement in other sports through their career, respectively. Analyses revealed that the Bundesliga professionals performed moderate amounts of organised football practice/training throughout their career. They accumulated 4264 (mean value) hours over ~16 years before debuting in 1st Bundesliga; senior National Team debut was preceded by 4532 hours (mean) over ~17 years. Within the "microstructure" of organised practice/training, the proportion of playing forms developed from ~52% (childhood) to ~45% (adolescence) and ~40% (adulthood) and physical conditioning from ~13% to ~14% and ~23%. Outside organised involvement, these players engaged in extensive non-organised leisure football play making ~68%, ~54% and ~9% of all football involvement. Subsuming organised and non-organised football, ~86% (childhood), ~73% (adolescence) and ~43% (adulthood) of all activity was game play (exclusive matchplay). National Team differed from amateurs in more non-organised leisure football in childhood, more engagement in other sports in adolescence, later specialisation, and in more organised football only at age 22+ years. Relative to numerous other studies, these players performed less organised practice, particularly less physical conditioning, but greater proportions of playing activities. The findings are discussed relative to the significance of playing forms and variable involvements and are reflected against the deliberate practice and Developmental Model of Sport Participation (DMSP) frameworks.

Keywords: Professional football; deliberate practice; individuality; play; talent development; variability.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Athletic Performance / standards
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Soccer / physiology*
  • Soccer / standards
  • Young Adult