Talent ID

An alternative approach to identifying future sporting talent

Are you a coach, practitioner or researcher interested in talent identification and development (TID)? If so, then the following questions may have come across your mind:

Why is there so much talent wastage in current TID programs?

Why are there so few reports or examples of successful talent transfer programs?

These questions were discussed by Ross Pinder, Ian Renshaw and Keith Davids from a representative learning design perspective.

Why is talent being wasted?

Many performance evaluation tests are ‘physically-biased’ and fail to consider key environmental variables and aspects of competitive performance. Additionally, these traditional TID models often:

  • Assess variables in isolation from the performance context;
  • Break tasks down into small performance sub-phases (task decomposition); and,
  • Fail to identify athletes with deficits in one aspect (e.g. slower start in running) with superior skills in others (e.g. better adaptation to varying environmental conditions on the running track).

This just gives a brief illustration of weaknesses in many TID programs and signals a need for performance evaluation test designs to be reassessed.

The alternative solution

Future talent cannot be predicted if sporting skills are broken down and taken away from the performance environment. Keith Davids and colleagues offer an alternative solution for identifying future talent. They proposed a ‘representative evaluation test design’, which aims to measure skill in an environment that includes the same information variables that performers use to control their actions in their specific sporting performance context.

Figure 1 highlights the important criteria in the ‘representative evaluation test design’ and includes the following:

  • Designing noisy task and evaluation tests;
  • Designing performance evaluation tasks predicted on information-based control of action;
  • Ensuring continuous context-dependent decisions and actions;
  • Designing evaluations tasks with representative affordances; and,
  • Recognising individual differences.
Rep learning talent id
Extracted from Davids et al. (2013)

These concepts stemmed from principles in ecological dynamics which highlights that successful learning design must be based on a sound understanding of:

  • The performers level of expertise in the particular task;
  • The intentions / goals; and,
  • The primary constraints (performer, task, environment) to be manipulated during learning.

Summary and implementations

Traditional tests used to identify future sporting talent have often failed to include key task constraints that simulate or reflect the competitive performance environment. It is important for all TID models to consider the performer’s interaction with the competitive performance environment to ensure that the evaluation test includes the specific environmental information that the performer uses to regulate their actions. Adopting a performance evaluation test that includes the concepts of representative learning design may reduce the amount of talent wastage in TID programs.


Davids, K., Araújo, D., Vilar, L., Renshaw, I., & Pinder, R. (2013). An ecological dynamics approach to skill acquisition: implications for development of talent in sport. Talent Development and Excellence, 5(1), 21-34.

Pinder, R. A., Renshaw, I., & Davids, K. (2013). The role of representative design in talent development: a comment on “Talent identification and promotion programmes of Olympic athletes”. Journal of sports sciences, 31(8), 803-806.



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