At what age do soccer players peak? Ask an economist
Radford University Associate Professor of Economics Seife Dendir’s research into the peak age of professional soccer players has been published in the Journal of Sports Analytics.
The research article, “When do soccer players peak? A note,” is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of the journal.
Dendir’s areas of research traditionally include economic development, applied microeconomics and econometrics. However, his love for soccer influenced him to delve into the data and take a closer look at a question that thus far had been answered with only anecdotal and subjective evidence from the game’s players, coaches and executives.
His study provides the first systematic, comprehensive and thorough investigation of the issue.
Using statistics from WhoScored.com, Dendir conducted a study using data from fall 2010 to spring 2015 from four major European soccer leagues, including the English Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga.
Dendir’s findings suggest the average professional soccer player peaks between the ages of 25 and 27, depending on the position they play on the pitch. Goalkeepers were not included in the study.
“In the preferred models, the average forward peaks at 25, whereas the typical defender peaks at 27,” Dendir wrote. “For midfielders, the estimated peak age varies by model but still occurs in the 25–27 age band.”
In line with conventional wisdom, Dendir explained, defenders “experience relatively minimal curvature in the age-performance relationship. Further results show that peak age may vary directly with ability.”
In addition to being of particular interest to fans, coaches and performance analysts, Dendir’s findings could impact the economic decisions team executives make when constructing their squads. “They have to ask, ‘are we paying too much or too little?’ This study can inform executives’ decisions on transfer prices and contract worth and length relative to a player’s age.”
One discussion Dendir hopes his study will generate pertains to the American soccer model versus the European model. In Europe, players tend to turn professional at an earlier age than do American players, and thereby gain more experience in professional leagues during their peak years. Many American players play in college before pursuing professional soccer careers.
“Is it too late a start for American soccer players, who are going to be compared with other professionals?” Dendir said. “By the time American players become professionals, they are already four or five years behind their European peers.”
Dendir joined the Radford University Department of Economics in 2005. His previous research has focused on risk-sharing networks in poor urban areas, child schooling and labor, household credit access and intra-household resource allocation issues in developing economies. Dendir has published development economics research in various notable academic journals.
The Journal of Sports Analytics is a new, high-quality research journal published by IOS Press that aims to be the central forum for discussion of practical applications of sports analytics research, serving team owners, general managers, coaches, fans and academics. It invites analytical research on any single sport or across sports that seeks to advance understanding of the game or strategies for improving a team or a league. Example topics include, but are not limited to, player evaluations, game strategies, sports business, sports physics, psychology, coaching, technology and health and injuries.