Skip to main content

Matchday feature: AFC Bournemouth utilise the theory of bio-banding

Posted: Sat 26 Mar 2016

There are 12,500 players in the academy system in England and how often do those players get judged – not on their technical ability – but on their physicality?

There are countless examples of players who have been released as they are deemed ‘too small’, but AFC Bournemouth are utilising a new approach to counter the issue and prioritise skill over size. In the matchday programme for the Southampton game, we took a closer look at the theory of bio-banding.
It's unfortunately all too common a problem that a young talent is released or rejected by a club because they are 'too small.'

You only have to look at the examples of Roy Keane, who was rejected by Brighton & Hove Albion, Jamie Vardy, who was let go from Sheffield Wednesday, and Harry Kane, who was released by Arsenal - all three instances were due to their physical attributes.
Two of the current Cherries’ squad have fell foul to this cruel fate. Eunan O’Kane was released from Everton whilst Tyrone Mings, at 16 and 5"8', was let go from Southampton. Mings now stands at an imposing 6"5' figure.

So what are academies doing to help nullify this issue which has been affecting the English game for years?

"At the start of pre-season we introduced the theory of bio-banding across all age ranges in the academy," AFC Bournemouth head of academy sports science and medicine Ben Bradley said.

"It’s a tool where we can put players on an equal physical footing and they can be more comfortable about learning to hone their technical skills as opposed to worrying about the physicality and size of opponents."

But what is bio-banding?

To put it simply, bio-banding is putting players with similar physical attributes together, as opposed to putting them in teams based on their age.

It's widely believed that being born earlier in the school year, in most cases, results in the player being more physically mature. A seven-year-old born in September is likely to be bigger, faster and stronger than one born the following July.
The idea behind bio-banding is to eliminate the problem of players relying on their physicality to get through matches at a young age, before getting found out technically as others catch up.

"There is a bit more to it than just putting people of the same height and same weight together,” Ben continued.

"We use different measurements alongside that information like leg length and equations which give us a time frame of when their adolescent growth spurt is going to happen.

"So we arranged a tournament against Watford and there were a number of games across all age ranges with teams based around their maturation level. We have an under-13 who, in normal under-13s games, can rely on his size and speed because he is far more mature.

"But in this setting, playing against 14s and 15s, he relies more on his technical ability as his physicality isn’t as effective against these players.
"In the same way, we have certain under-15s players who are playing with 13s and 14s, purely because of their maturation. This allows them not to worry about being barged off the ball and things like that, it allows them to show how good they are technically.

"This doesn’t happen in normal league matches, they’re the same normal chronological format. But we’re incorporating this across our training sessions and weekly tournaments in order to give us a different view of our players and to give them a different perspective too.

"I hope it eliminates the old argument that a player is too small for a club. This way of working can help players flourish in their own way, and because you get that wider perspective, you can judge players in different ways.

"We’re one of the few Barclays Premier League clubs to use this within our academies and we’re pleased to be providing an alternative to our players."

Bio-banding isn’t a new concept, with the earliest developments of the theory stemming from New Zealand back in 1908, when New Zealand schools grouped rugby teams according to weight rather than age.
So why has it taken so long for clubs to take this idea on board?

According to the BBC, up to 76% of players aged between 13 and 16 will leave their respective academies and Graham Mills, the Cherries’ youth development phase lead coach, believes that after a long wait, the introduction of bio banding will impact that statistic massively.

"Looking at players in age groups, sometimes you can be misled by physical dominance," Graham said.

"Also, you could be misled the other way. This platform will help to remove that which will lead to clubs keeping players within their setups.
"The idea is to provide a platform for them all to compete, so there is a real microscope on their ability as opposed to anything else.

"It’s taken a while for it to be accepted I feel, but we’ve noticed the benefit this season within our academy.

"We’ve got under-15s who are really coming into their own in a lower maturation band, and under-13s improving in the higher maturation bands, they develop different coping mechanisms and we’re noticing that in their league games.
"That’s the real key for us, particularly looking at the first-team fold. Yes, the club philosophy is very physical in the sense of sprints and distance covered, but we’re not the biggest team in the world and pride ourselves on possession football.

"Look at the likes of Harry Arter, he’s been given a chance at this club because of way we play, players with fantastic technical ability can flourish in this environment.

"It’s such a good tool for clubs in the sense that you don’t rely on the physicality and things like Jamie Vardy’s release should slowly start to creep out of the game.

"I’m sure it would lead to more academies retaining players, which is good for everyone. We’re one of the few Premier League clubs to my knowledge who are including this as part of their program and it’s something we’re keen to continue."
O’Kane, who was released from the Everton academy after a spell there between 2007 and 2009, has proven that not all young players have to fall out of the game due to their size.

Now in the Barclays Premier League with the Cherries, O’Kane believe bio-banding could be the way forward and cites a Toffees legend and a Balon d’Or winner as testament to why the theory could have a massive impact in the game.

"When I was released from Everton I was confused and obviously gutted," O’Kane explained.

"It does stay with you when you’ve been given a title like that. I was a smaller player in my age ranges and I still am. Being ‘too small’ is the first thing that people probably see when they look at me, but it hasn’t held me back and now I’m in the Barclays Premier League. I’m not bitter about being released, it’s part of life.

"But it hasn’t held me back, I’ve always believed in my ability and I’ve forged a career for myself. There are more important things to worry about than being too small, look at the best player in the world at the moment, Lionel Messi, he’s 5”7’!

"I think bio-banding could have a real impact. The ages of 14, 15, 16 and 17 are key for a footballer – they make a huge difference to a player’s career.

"Some progress much faster than others physically in that time and I feel a lot more players would be created by giving them a level playing field in that regard.

"A lot of players are dismissed at those ages which are important not only for growth but for football, as it would be their first steps into playing full-time.

"A lot of players would take advantage of bio-banding and I can't see any negative from either side. Even players who have developed quicker physically, it is good for them to be challenged against older players.
"An example from Everton was Leon Osman, when I was with the club he publically said that he needed time to develop. He got given that opportunity and look at what he has achieved there. That’s the minority rather than the norm that get given that opportunity, but I really think putting people on a level playing field, being put together by your maturation status instead of your age, would benefit everyone.

"Everyone has set backs and you can’t let them hold you down, the cream always comes to the top and I think that bio-banding could be a good way of giving more players opportunities and allowing them to grow technically."