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Skill-related studies from youth to high-performance football: a scoping review

Studien zu Skills vom Jugend- bis zum Hochleistungsfußball: eine Übersichtsstudie


The concept of skill is a key element in football and has been studied from many different perspectives. A global view on skill-related football interventions help comprehend and identify gaps in current knowledge. The aim of this scoping review was threefold: (a) to scope the theoretical bases, concepts and skills that have been used in skill-related interventions in football, (b) to summarize the skill-related interventions, (c) to identify research gaps. A scoping literature search was carried out following JBI and PRISMA-ScR guidelines in APA PsycINFO, MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science. The main inclusion criterium was that studies had to examine football players aged U15 (non-beginners) to adult (high-performance/professional), encompassing both genders across youth and high-performance levels, and consider all types of interventional studies published in English peer-reviewed journals, focusing on acute and long-term adaptations. A total of 4086 peer-reviewed journal articles were identified, 83 of them were fully analyzed, and three key results were obtained: (a) the examined articles predominantly used two theoretical approaches for football skills (self-organization approaches and information processing, 42.2 and 19.3%, respectively), or did not have any theoretical grounding (38.6%), (b) a multitude of different key concepts (> 60) have been used, (c) most football skill-related research was conducted in Europe (81.0%) with samples heavily focused on male participants (90.1%). Findings highlight the need to clarify the conceptualization of football skill and broaden the scope on football skill throughout the world, especially to include ecological research designs with female participants.

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  1. During the screening phase, the criteria was refined: studies were included only if the average age of participants was not below one SD of 15 yrs.

  2. During the screening phase, the criteria was refined: exclusion also if we could not affirm how the eligible and ineligible participants were grouped.

  3. In women’s football, also the 1st level football was included, even though no information about professionality was given, since women’s high-level football is not yet always fully professional regarding salaries but is regarding their input.

  4. If authors did not provide information regarding participants’ level, the article was excluded.

  5. During the screening phase, the criteria was refined: studies that focused on strength development (and where the only skill-related aspect was speed of a pass/kick) were excluded.

  6. A pilot test (screening random sample of 25 titles/abstracts, discussing discrepancies, making modifications, and starting screening when ≥ 80% agreement was achieved) was conducted also in this phase.

  7. Unlike the protocol, instead of letting an experienced advisory team examine the reference lists, they have been checked out by the first author JS.

  8. ‘Perceptual-cognitive’ class was added to account for the studies that used a ‘out of context’ training program without physical effort, such as video-based tasks (physical training was included in ‘drill’ class).

  9. It could be inferred from the titles and abstracts that these articles would probably not have been included.

  10. More recent articles are not in the review because of the timing of the full search.

  11. Age and sample size were considered only for those sample groups that fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Age was extracted from the mean age of the sample.

  12. Skills and performance/behaviour-related variables were distributed in two classes in the phase of preliminary analysis. Skills are the specific football skills such as passing, performance/behaviour-related variables are related to game/training performance (e.g., action completion/success rate) or player/group behaviour (e.g., visual exploratory activity).

  13. References preceded by an asterisk (*) were included in the scoping review.



Small-sided games


Teaching Games for Understanding


References preceded by an asterisk (*) were included in the scoping review.

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The authors thank the professor and two information scientists for their important help in developing the full search. This review is part of JS’s PhD project.


There was no direct funding for this research. During the conduction of this study, JS was supported by the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation research grant (00180336).

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Authors and Affiliations



JS and AV conceptualized the review and criteria. JS completed the full searches. JS, AV and RF completed the screening and data extraction of all data within this manuscript. JS created the tables and figures. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript. All authors reviewed, refined and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jani Sarajärvi.

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Conflict of interest

J. Sarajärvi, R. Freitas, M. Elovaara and A. Volossovitch declare that they have no competing interests.

For this article no studies with human participants or animals were performed by any of the authors. All studies mentioned were in accordance with the ethical standards indicated in each case.

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Data Availability Statement

The data mentioned in the article is available in the article/supplementary material. The study protocol and PRISMA-ScR checklist (Tricco et al., 2018) can be found in the corresponding project ( in Open Science Framework. Other details are available upon request.

Supplementary Information

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Sarajärvi, J., Freitas, R., Elovaara, M. et al. Skill-related studies from youth to high-performance football: a scoping review. Ger J Exerc Sport Res (2023).

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