Academy scouting: influence of culture is underrated

Academy scouting really is a very distinctive role and cannot be compared to 1st team scouting. I’m not here to tell you one is better than the other, but there are different things you look at when scouting and your mindset is also quite different. In academy scouting you also look at the potential and where the player will be at the end of his development, rather than his or her immediate impact on a squad.

In this piece I wanted to focus on another specific thing within academy scouting and it’s not something you would put on top of your list, but it’s culture. Culture can mean many things, but outside the playing culture – there is the societal culture that a new player should fit in with, or should be able to adapt to.

Academy preferences
The academy has its preferences when looking at players coming in. This is different from all levels, but the profile of a player that comes in – also concentrates on the cultural aspect. These are not defined values or qualities, but one looks at nationalities, their way of life outside of football (re: politics and religion of parents) and the ability of fitting, culturally speaking, with the already present squad members. In doing so, the frame you scout in, will be affected and the context will change.

Languages
Languages are important. Within an academy there is a language that spoken by the coaching staff and will be used to communicate everything. That means the player coming should know the language or can adapt to it quite quickly. Looking to players in Dutch academies, should know Dutch, but German players will be recruited to some extent as they learn the language in a pace that is satisfactory – because of the resemblance of the languages.

High/low context cultures
This is a vital thing in communication which I feel is very much underrepresented in scouting/recruitment. The idea of context cultures is important as it tells us the manner in which language is used to communicate a certain idea/topic. Low context cultures, like Northern Europe, use very few words to communicate what they need or want to see. They need fewer words than high context cultures, like Southern Europe – they need more words to communicate a point and that’s why sometimes communication errors can exist.

In-game mentality
What’s needed in a game? And what are boundaries you can cross or cannot cross. In some cultures it’s understandable to get a red card or make a handball in order to prevent a goal, in some cultures it isn’t. Some cultures are more clean in their defending and some are more clinical, and allow for cynical fouls. All these things should be taken into consideration. And if you value a player with a different culture, how much are going to invest in education of the culture already in place?

Development: first team or reserves
It’s very important to think on this, is it a player that will grow into a first team or is it someone who will play in the reserves before being released? Is it a high potential or are you trying to fill the teams open positions? I feel that beyond the age of 18, it’s important to communicate what their role is and if they are ever going to feature for the first team or not.

Guidance
If you are set on education and guidance into another culture, it’s very important to have people in place who can do that. Someone who understands both cultures and can make the transition easier for the player. Without guidance, the player can become isolated, lonely and his/her performances will drop as a consequence of this.

Final thoughts
Culture is an aspect of scouting/recruitment that should be taken into consideration more when scouting for an academy. The player is capable of great things, but the mental aspect of a culture change should not be underestimated. We as scouts, should be aware of this.

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