Norman Brook recently presented a paper on the practice of identifying, confirming and developing sporting talent at a seminar in Fortaleza, Brazil, organised through the International Inspiration programme and hosted by the state government of Ceara. Brazil will host the Summer Olympic Games in 2016 and identifying and developing talent in Olympic sports will be high on the nations agenda. The second extract from the paper is featured below and others will be publshed here over the next few weeks.
There are a number of different approaches taken to finding talent in sport including:
Generic Talent ID;
Bespoke (Sports Specific) Talent ID;
Online Talent ID.
Selecting individuals on the basis of their performance in a particular sport is a common method of talent identification but the pool of available talent is limited to those already participating in the sport. This method is effective in sports that attract high levels of participation.
Where the sport involves objective measures of performance, selection is largely based on age related performance standards. Coaches may also take other factors, such as the athlete’s physique or age, into consideration.
In team sport, or sports where performance is subjective rather than objective, selection is often based on the observations of a talent scout. Professional sports teams often to send out scouts to search for the next generation talent amongst the better youth teams.
Talent selection may be less effective when used as a strategy in those sports that do not enjoy high levels of participation as it limits pool of potential talent in that sport.
Generic Talent Identification
Talent identification involves the identification of individuals not yet participating in a particular sport. It is not that they are not participating in sport, but rather that they are not yet participating in that sport, or are specialising in another sport.
General talent identification strategies were a feature of sport in Eastern Europe during the “Cold War” period. In East Germany, a furtherance-system existed for young people aged 6 to 10 years (or older). Sport-teachers at school were encouraged to look for certain talents (aptitudes) in all pupils. For older pupils it was then possible for those demonstrating an aptitude to attend a secondary-school with a focus on sports.
In recent years national generic talent identification systems have been developed in countries such as Australia, Brazil and Northern Ireland. The challenge of such initiatives is that they need to be accompanied by talent confirmation and development systems to be successful. The aptitudes these programmes measure are not sports specific and the individuals identified as having desirable characteristics for sport need to be further assessed in a specific sports environment before the existance of talent can be confirmed. This requires a talent confirmation and development process to be in place for each sport that is accessible to the young people undertaking generic talent testing.
The resources required to deliver generic talent identification are far less than that required to deliver talent confirmation and development programmes. There is therefore a danger that generic testing will not be effective in identifying talent where insufficient resources are assigned to talent confirmation and development.
A question that needs to be asked of generic talent identification programmes is, are they more or less successful at identifying talent than the delivery of youth sport programmes aimed at learning to play and practice sport? Teaching young people fundamental movement and sports skills during the skill hungry years of 8 to 11/13, adopting a sports specific approach to talent selection an approach thats combines the assessment of skill, physical performance and attitude, may be prove more effective.
There is also a question as to the age at which young people are assessed. In Brazil testing takes place from 10-17 years and in Australia from 12-22 years. Consideration needs to be given to whether assessment should be based on age or stage of development. Does testing fit with long term participant/athlete development reflecting those periods of a young person’s life where skill and certain physical qualities can be optimally developed?
The “Descoberta do Talento Esportivo” programme in Brazil applies the following physical and physiological tests:
Flexibility (sit and reach)
Explosive strength (horizontal jump)
Speed (square test)
peed (race 20 meters)
Endurance Test (nine minutes)
In Australia, General Talent Identification testing comprises the following tests:
Option A: 20m Shuttle Run Test
Option B: 1.6Km
Bespoke (Sports Specific) Talent Identification
A number of different sports have bespoke talent identification programmes that measure those aptitudes felt to be most important if success is to be achieved in the sport. Bespoke TID initiatives focus on selected physical, performance and skill characteristics specific to success in that sport. In rowing for example, height, body mass and arm length are important factors. These are assessed along with endurance and power measred by means of rowing ergometer testing.
A sport like soccer will focus on assessment of a person’s skills on the soccer field as well as their speed, agility and quickness.
The following examples show the bespoke talent assessment measures adopted by two of the World’s leading triathlon nations. Note that swimming and running performance are the key talent identification factors and that cycling is not assessed. Triathlon AustraliaBritish Triathlon
100m Swim Time Trial
1000m Swim Time Trial
400m Run Time Trial
5000m Run Time Trial
200m or 400m swim time
16 years and under 200m,
17 years and older 400m
1000m, 1500m or 3000m run time
12 years and under 1000m,
16 years and under 1500m,
17 years and older 3000m
Times combined and points awarded.
Talent transfer follows a similar approach to bespoke (sports specific) talent identification with the exception that the individuals being targeted have already demonstrated talent in another sport. They may have achieved all they can in that sport or failed to reach the “excellence” level and have decided to try out for an alternative sport.
Examples of talent transfer programmes reported in the United Kingdom include:
Gymnasts transferring to Olympic Diving;
All Sports (1.90+ Men/1.80m+ Women) to Rowing, Basketball, Handball (Sporting Giants)
Swimmer/Runners transferring to Triathlon (TriGold)
Soccer/Rugby Players transferring to Bob Skeleton, Hockey, Athletics (Pitch2Podium)
All Sports (Women) to cycling, bob skeleton, canoeing, modern pentathlon, rowing, and sailing, (Girls4Gold).
Swimmers, rowers and surf-lifesavers transferring to Sprint Kayaking.
Successful talent transfers contributed to Team GB’s Olympic medal tally in 2006 and 2008 in the sports of Cycling, Bob Skeleton, and Rowing.
Online Talent Identification
Young people are increasingly using the internet as a means of communicating. Online talent identification programmes allow young people to “self assess” their aptitude for a sport and to register their performances and personal details with a sport. Two good examples of these are the online systems operated by the Australian Sports Commission and the British Triathlon Federation.
The third of our blogs on talent identification and development will be published shortly and will examine the issue of talent confirmation.