You are here

12.11.14
Sports

Have you got the X-Factor?

Athlete running through the finish line

The identification of talent in sport is an emotive subject. It takes 10 years of developmental skills to truly excel at any given sport and yet too often the emphasis is placed on performance measures rather than the development and monitoring of potential. These performance measures then drive an ‘early age’ talent identification process, measuring and selecting young athletes on genetically driven components, such as height for basketball, while often overlooking talented athletes due to an inappropriate, pre-conceived and subjective view of talent.

There are some key points that it are worth noting when considering the whole talent proposition:

•It’s difficult to predict athletic maturity 

•Performance is not all about ‘size’

•The athlete’s ability to adapt to different performance requirements should be taken into account

•Selection periods might take place during an athlete’s growth spurt or other transitional periods

•Not enough emphasis is placed on future potential

In order for talented individuals to produce effective movement patterns they must develop a range of different behavioural qualities. By understanding these qualities, along with the record of physical attributes, it is likely that we will get more accurate, future, performance predictions. 

The physical can’t be a standalone measure as there are so many changes before and during adolescence. For example, if an athlete’s height were the main component in a sport then they should not be identified as a talent in that sport until after puberty. 

Behavioural qualities in athletes are also difficult to predict although one overriding quality in successful athletes is their ability to display ‘goal-directed behaviour’.  Athletes with sufficient drive and determination are more likely to overcome barriers in order to be successful in the future. Therefore, whilst certain physical characteristics are strongly related to high-level performance in sport, they cannot be used in isolation to identify future talent. They are too simplistic and are likely to eliminate many potentially talented athletes.

Performance variables alone, can’t predict future performers. One of the biggest problems in predicting performance is the random variations in behaviour which may be beyond the athlete’s control. Therefore, we must also be able to identify the factors which may limit talent development.

All talent identification must allow for the capacity to develop. Without this, many late maturing children could be lost to strength sports such as rugby or agility sports such as diving. It is important to distinguish between the variables that influence performance and those that influence development. Unfortunately, encouraging sport specific development at an early age is likely to prohibit the ability to transfer between sports and further restrict the number of athletes that develop into successful senior international performers. It’s important that talent Identification and talent development run alongside each other as effective identification can be aided by effective development.

Also, take note: Those who mature and grow at a slower rate are often at a distinct disadvantage with respect to selection via competition. It is commonly only those young individuals who excel in competition at a young age who are offered, or seek, additional coaching in the form of adjunct training and other forms of sport science services (therapeutic care, nutritional support or psychological development for example).