AZ and BrainsFirst extend agreement

AZ and BrainsFirst extend agreement

Published on 16 oktober 21, 14:02

ALKMAAR- AZ and BrainsFirst will continue to work together in the coming four years. This week the Dutch football club and the neuroscience company signed a new agreement until 2025. “The brain revolution has only just started.”

Eight years ago AZ and BrainsFirst joined forces. At the time, this was happening in an investigative setting. Since 2018 the value of the Amsterdam-based company’s work was proven. BrainsFirst uses neuroscientifically validated games to 'measure' the brains of youth players.

Neuroscience games
When AZ’s youngsters play the game, data is collected out of which a unique representative brain profile is made. “Everyone is good and less good at something,” says BrainsFirst founder Eric Castien. “The games give you more insight into that.”

Castien: 'Necessary for top football'
The method measures players on potential rather than what they already can do. “To cope with the complexity of modern top football, it is not only necessary to be good technically, physically and motorically. Certain brain functions must also be of a high level, otherwise for example ‘in-match information’ is processed too slowly to participate at top level. Zooming in from an Academy perspective, what we measure provides insight into a player’s brain development potential and whether it meets the requirements.”

Brandenburg: ‘Essential in talent recognition’
The tool is useful for talent identification, among other things, says AZ Academy Manager Paul Brandenburg. “The cognitive aspect is now essential in our talent recognition process. We see at an early stage what potential they have. It’s also very useful for boys who already play in our Academy. By knowing exactly what their qualities are, we can offer each individual a customized route towards pro football. We are happy to extend our agreement with BrainsFirst.”

Reducing bias
Castien: “In talent recognition, the current performance of a young player is often taken as the main indicator, while this has a strong  bias, such as physically. Players with a biological advantage at age fifteen, might at that moment be better than their teammates. They are often seen as the high-potentials of their generation, but some years later they are usually physically caught up by their peers and losing their lead. By adding a cognitive component to talent recognition, as a club you gain a better insight into whether someone is also ahead in that area. This allows you to see the bigger talent picture.”

Teen dreams
Back in 2012 AZ was one of the first clubs to involve neuroscience in their program. “AZ has a reputation throughout Europe of being a progressive club that trusts on facts and data rather than opinions. As a result, it felt natural to work together as we both have the desire to add objectivity to the often emotional world of talent recognition. You have to handle that with great care, because you are talking about decisions that affect the lives of teenagers with a dream.”

Brain revolution in modern football
BrainsFirst and AZ have found the ‘missing piece of talent recognition’, as Castien calls it. “With the addition of a neuroscientific component, talent recognition now maybe sounds more complicated, but it actually helps  to predict better who will and will not make it to the top. That process simply is complex. We now also see that more clubs and football associations outside the Netherlands are following the example. We had to prove ourselves for a long time before people believed us. Now the scepticism has finally been overcome, but the brain revolution has only just started.”

Innovation Award
Last week AZ received an award for the way it selects youth players, the DW Innovation in Selection Award. "The winner of this award looks at potential that's often overlooked," the jury report said. "As a result, people have been given development opportunities they otherwise would not have had. This innovation also helps to find the ideal place for everyone, so they can come into their own."

Pictures: Ed van de Pol /