A Coach's guide to Bio-banding – Why, What and How?

Following on from the very popular guest post from Steve Curnyn of Hibernian FC Academy on “Growth and maturation in Academy footballers“, it seems logical to follow this up with an overview of Biobanding – What it is, Why it’s used and How it’s implemented.

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A good case for Biobanding!

Why use Biobanding?
As shown by various scientific studies, the process of maturation is not linear. It can differ across individuals in the time of onset, the speed of changes and the magnitude of those changes. As such, it’s plausible to have an entire squad or class of individuals who display varying biological ages, despite being very similar in chronological age. The image below courtesy of James Baker at Aspire Academy Qatar, displays this scenario very clearly, in this case using Skeletal age (a measure of biological age obtained via X-ray).
Courtesy of James Baker: Aspire Academy Qatar

Essentially what the image above shows is that group has only a 1.4 year range of chronological age, whilst displaying a range of 5.3 years in Skeletal age.
This variation in the process of maturation can cause some issues in objectively identifying “talented” athletes when performing around their chronological peers. The variation in maturation status can create an uneven playing field between those earlier-maturing athletes in comparison to on-time or late maturing athletes. For example research has displayed early maturing players may have physical advantages such as: increased height, weight, speed, power and momentum to name a few. This is problematic as these physical advantages influenced by a greater progress in the maturation process compared to their counterparts, may lead to the early-maturing individual being identified as talented, selected into performance programs and progressed onto a performance pathway. Additionally, the later-maturing individuals may be passed over due to their lesser mature status influencing physical performance. Essentially, the end result it potentially selecting the wrong individuals into the pathway whilst simultaneously reducing the size of the talent pool by way of potential drop out/deselection.
Maturation status can be deceptive, leading to misinformed Talent ID.

What is Biobanding?
Alongside other interventions, one of the many tools being used by high performance programs of late is “Biobanding”. You may have read or heard  in the media about many Professional sports clubs using it in their talent development pathways. For example  the Premier League has held a Biobanding festival and Bath Rugby Club utilising it in their Academy.
The premise of Biobanding is to create an appropriate amount of challenge for both late AND early-maturing players. This is achieved by grouping players by biological ages rather than chronological ages. This allows late-maturing players who may often be at a disadvantage playing alongside early/on time maturers, the opportunity to play against their biological counterparts. Additionally, it also allows early maturing players who may typically possess a physical advantage over lesser mature athletes, the opportunity to experience a higher level of challenge by competing against athletes of a similarly early-maturing nature.
Essentially, the underpinning principle is to creating an appropriate level of challenge to stimulate development. This is important as it has been suggested that there is the potential for early maturers to rely on their physical prowess and therefore under-develop in the technical skills, whilst late-maturers may suffer via their struggle to match the physical prowess of the early maturers.

How is Biobanding implemented?
Firstly, athletes are assessed for biological maturation. This is done without any invasive methods, using a mathematical formula which takes into account their age, weight, height, seated height and the height of their parents. This formula then predicts the athlete’s final adult height and how much of that height they have reached. As discussed in Steve’s article, we discussed how the following thresholds are used to separate stages of maturation based on where they sit in relation to Puberty, with Peak Height velocity typically occurring at around 90-91% of predicted adult height. This important as PHV is considered a time of vulnerability in terms of injury risk. The following thresholds can be used:

  1. Pre-Puberty less than 85% of predicted adult height
  2. Circa-Puberty 85 – 96% of predicted adult height
  3. Post-Puberty 96%+ of predicted adult height

From here, organisations or clubs may choose to hold competitions specifically targeting teams of athletes at a particular stage of maturation outlined above. This will allow athletes to be competing against their maturational peers, reducing the likelihood of disproportionate differences between athletes. HOWEVER, it is not currently recommended that biobanding replaces traditional chronological age based competition, but that it provides an adjunct to it.
Outside of competition, as described in the video below and by Steve Curnyn in his context at Hibernian FC, Biobanding may not be used only in competition, but as a monitoring tool to measure athlete physical progression, injury risk and load management.

So there you have it – a coach’s guide to Biobanding! If you want to read on the topic further, then I recommend this article for a more in-depth look on the topic: “Biobanding in Sport: Applications to Competition, Talent Identification and Strength and Conditioning of Young Athletes  also, if you haven’t already – definitely read Steve Curnyn’s guest post on Growth and Maturation!
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