The academic and football communities in Finland have taken increasing interest in cooperating with each other. Dr. Mihaly Szerovay began as a Professor of Practice position last autumn at the Faculty of Sport Health Sciences. The joint position by the Football Association of Finland (FAF) and the University of Jyväskylä aim at bringing research closer to practice. This cooperative effort is expected to advance evidence-based decision-making. In what concrete ways can this initiative contribute to the development of football and futsal?

Academic proponents of evidence-based practices emphasise four sources of evidence. These sources are scientific literature, practitioners, stakeholders, and the organisations involved. This is a helpful categorisation for exploring the question posed above.

Drawing on scientific literature – including both existing football-related studies and new research – have an untapped potential. To address this potential, we have started to map all studies carried out on Finnish football. When looking at how research has added value to football internationally, we can see that analysing big data has been used for preventing injuries, identifying talents, and creating playing philosophies, which are relevant issues in the Finnish context as well.

Quality education ensures that practitioners have the foundations and the expertise that can serve as source of evidence. In football, having trained and competent coaches is an obvious prerequisite for player development. Accordingly, this is a highlighted element in the new strategy of the FAF . The renewed sport coaching master’s programme at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences is informed by the latest scientific studies and incorporates perspectives of performance, pedagogy, psychology, and leadership. This programme provides flexible pathways that allow students to gain practical experience during their studies; that is, we offer links to future employers and insights to various roles in the job market of elite sport.

The global football ecosystem consists of a wide range of actors. The interests, needs, and concerns of organisations and individuals in this ecosystem highlight the importance of the evidence from stakeholders. For example, the Football Players Association of Finland supports players to pursue their studies during their playing career. We can respond to this need by facilitating players to attend our Open University. Tapping into the potential of international networks brings mutual benefits; the recent collaboration agreement between Athletic Club Bilbao and the faculty will surely produce new evidence on injury prevention and rehabilitation.

Finally, collecting and analysing organisational evidence about the FAF may contribute to identifying knowledge needs of the organisation as well as its stakeholders in a more systematic way. For instance, the university can add value by offering its expertise in research methodology and funding. In addition, positioned sufficiently “far” from the FAF allows the university to take a neutral angle when research is conducted, or evaluation takes place.

To conclude, the Finnish football and academic communities are becoming increasingly intertwined with one another. As a result, a favourable environment for evidence-based practices is emerging, which creates opportunities not only to produce new knowledge and practices for the benefit of football, but also to nurture a new generation of football practitioners.

Mihaly Szerovay
Professor of Practice
Research and Development in Football

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