Hong Kong’s young footballers trail their British counterparts in power and endurance, but are neck and neck in terms of speed and agility, a three-year study by the Jockey Club has found.
The results, which have been compiled into the first ever fitness database on local youths, will help the Football Association develop training programmes to pinpoint their weaknesses and narrow the performance gap.
Launched in 2013, the Youth Football Fitness Assessment Programme invited 641 players, aged 13 to 17, from district teams and the Hong Kong youth squad for a series of tests.
Experts from the Hong Kong Sports Institute and the Jockey Club Sports Medicine and Health Sciences Centre worked together to evaluate the four attributes of speed, agility, explosiveness and endurance.
Results showed local league players, who received an average of 11 /2 training sessions each week, fell behind their Hong Kong Football Academy counterparts, who trained four times a week.
District footballers in the under 17 group took 3.13 seconds to complete the 20-metre dash, compared to 2.99 seconds for the players representing Hong Kong.
The fitness database will also act as a benchmark for 4,250 coaches and young players across Hong Kong to optimise their training regimes.
Collaborating with English football club Manchester United, the data was then used to compare players with their peers in Britain.
Sports scientist Hardaway Chan Chun-kwan said overall Hong Kong youths were outperformed by a margin of 30 per cent by their British peers on endurance, and by 20 to 30 per cent on explosiveness. This reflected the need to boost muscle and strength training, Chan said.
In this respect, researchers have come up with a seven-week high-intensity circuit training regime, and have tested it on three school teams.
The results showed significant improvement in body fat percentage, agility and core muscle strength. Chan hopes the programme can be rolled out extensively in the future.
But Mathew Pears, who joined the FA as its specialist conditioning coach after eight years with Leeds United, pointed out the results were not all one-sided, saying Hong Kong teens were just as fast and agile as British youths. He attributed this to the lighter body weight of local players.