Those International league tables – how did UK United fare?

Janet Downs's picture
In the last few years the number of international competitions has increased. The UK’s football team, UK United, entered them all. Here’s a rundown of the results:

First up, it’s the Performance in Running Longitudinal Study (PIRLS). In 2012, our youth team increased its score. Good news, so far.

Second, there’s the Trends in Motor Skills Survey (TIMSS) which measures motor skills in kicking and dribbling. UK United (actually England) was up there with the best in 2007. In 2012, the team's relative position dropped a bit but the score remained the same. Younger players are still playing strongly while the older ones didn’t score as well as should have been expected given their high performance in 2007. This trend was shared by the Hong Kong Highfliers and the Swedish team, Svenska Skolan.

But the Super League competition is the Programme of Soccer Assessment (PISA) which tests performance in running, kicking and dribbling.

The first PISA tests were in 2000. UK United scored highly but the goals were subsequently disallowed. In 2003, UK didn’t enter enough teams. In 2009 the results showed UK’s league position had fallen since 2006 even though the scores remained the same. More teams had taken part including high scorers such as Shanghai. Nevertheless, UK United scored above-average in dribbling and average in the other two skills.

In 2010 there was horrified dismay when the results came out. Headlines such as “Travesty of our Failing Football Team” screamed in four-inch font on red top front pages. The new Secretary of State for Sport (SoSS) used the results to support his radical reforms claiming (wrongly) that the team’s score had plummeted since 2000. He invited teams to become “independent” and free themselves from the shackles of Football Authority (FA) control. The SoSS, who’s never coached a team and usually only ventures onto the pitch for a photo-shoot or to make an interminable speech, said he would inject more “rigour” into the UK (actually English) game.

And then in 2013 came worse news – UK United (actually England and Northern Ireland) was near the bottom of a new international test designed to assess skills needed for the professional game. The results were used to prove that UK (sorry, English) football training in the state system was catastrophically bad. These commentators seemed unaware, perhaps deliberately so, that many of those tested would have been trained in the private sector and many of the youngest age bracket would have been coached in the “independent” academies.

One commentator, however, has noticed there might be a problem*. The data compilers found many countries didn’t hit the target response rate of 70%. These countries “were required to conduct basic non-response bias analyses (NRBA) and report the results”. England and Northern Ireland were the only two countries that failed to do this. The data compiler advised “Caution” because the non-response bias was “Unknown”.

But, as so often happens with these test results, “Caution” is thrown to the wind.

But this one voice could be wrong – she’s not a statistician.

However, the Government should be careful about crowing too much about these results. The SoSS admires the USA for its Charter Teams, Kicking is Power Programme (KIPP) and Kicking Curriculum. The latter has been adapted for English consumption by an inexperienced coach who was unqualified and untrained when given the job of leading a new “free” team starting in September. She’s already quit. Nevertheless, her Kicking Curriculum has been published by a think-tank linked to a Government minister. It’s been praised by the SoSS and assorted ministers. It’s used in a couple of free teams.

So, how did the USA** do in this new test?

It came bottom.


*Pages 59 and 60, Reader’s Companion to the Survey of Adult Skills

**The response rate for the USA hit the 70% target. There was no need for the country to conduct NRBA. There is, therefore, no need to exercise “Caution” in giving this low result.

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