Talent identification is possibly the hottest topic in youth sport.
The issues surrounding talent identification, such as the ethical concerns of early specialisation, have been well discussed. However, these discussions have not yet manifested in widespread changes to youth sport.
Joe Baker and colleagues published an article in Quest that aimed to continue the discussion of talent identification by highlighting 8 issues of concern.
1. “Early talent selection assumes talent is a fixed capacity that can be identified early”
Many sporting organisations attempt to identify talent during early phases of development. However, this approach does not take into account individual differences in growth and development.
2. “Beliefs about talent matter”
Labeling a player as “talented” can have detrimental consequences. For instance, it might lead to a child having expectations that they will achieve success at later stages due to their “innate talent”. However, we know that high quality training is also required to achieve success at the elite level.
3. “Talent selection decisions have different levels of risk”
Talent is often selected based on current performance. This is problematic given that performance during childhood is not a good predictor of performance at later stages. Joe Baker and colleagues created a matrix to illustrate the type of player who represents a greater risk when selecting talent.
Players who display high performance and high potential are considered low risk selections. Conversely, players who display high performance but low potential, or low performance but high potential, represent high risk selections.
4. “Talent identification is not done on a level playing field”
Often talent identification is influenced by other factors, such as the relative age of players. It has been well established across many sports that players born earlier in the year are more likely to be identified as talented.
5. “Multivariate approaches to talent selection may be problematic”
Many coaches and sports scientists are attempting to develop multivariate testing batteries that assess players on a variety of skills (e.g., technical, tactical, physical). While these assessments do provide an overall picture of players skills, the problem comes when someone has to select between a player who has lots of good skills versus a player who is extraordinarily good at one skill but relatively poor with the other skills. Which player will more likely succeed at the highest level?
6. “Selecting talents requires predicting the future of sport”
Sport is constantly evolving. The attributes of an elite sports player right now are different to the attributes of an elite player 10 years ago. Hence, to identify a talented player during early development, one needs to be able to predict the attributes of a successful player in the future .
7. “Short-term priorities undermine talent selection and development”
Many coaches and sporting organisations are judged on current performance. Hence, short-term success will likely lead to financial rewards and job security. This means that decisions are sometimes not made on what is best for athlete development.
8. “Increased competition for talent between sports undermines athlete development”
Every sport is competing with each other for participants. Consequently many sports are trying to lure players to their sport at a young age (e.g., via youth academy programs). However, this only encourages early specialisation in a single sport, which can actually undermine athlete development.
Where to from here?
The authors conclude with a number of suggestions. These include:
- a need for more research to help inform talent selection decisions, and
- a greater focus on the talent development environment rather than on talent selection.
Baker, J., Schorer, J., & Wattie, N. (2017). Compromising Talent: Issues in Identifying and Selecting Talent in Sport. Quest, 1-16.