Talent Identification vs. Talent Development Initiatives

Today I started reading a book I’ve wanted to read for a very long time: Performance Psychology: A Practitioner’s Guide. I’ve read the first two chapters of Section 1: Introduction: getting ready to perform and Aims, principles and methodologies in talent identification and development.

Couple of the quotes that that I took note of:

Indeed, to achieve excellence at the world-class level, excellence at the junior levels may even have to be sacrificed, since the characteristics of individuals who will excel at the two levels may be different.

Performance Psychology (2011:20)

This is also a good one

“Therefore, given the generic nature of motor skills such as coordination and balance, it seems that children would benefit from involvement in a broad range of activities during the early stages of development. Unfortunately, the current trend of encouraging sport-specific involvement at an earlier age (e.g. mini-rugby) to ensure that the ‘talented’ get appropriate developmental opportunities is likely to prohibit the ability to transfer between disciplines and could further restrict the number of athletes who develop into successful senior international performers. The problem is that if children are not encouraged to experience and practise a range of different motor skills at a young age, this may prevent them from capitalizing on individual strengths or transferring these skills when specializing at later stages. The broad activity background advocated above may also facilitate the ability of an athlete to adapt performance to suit different situations and environments, an ability that was identified earlier in this chapter as key for successful athletes.”

Performance Psychology (2011:17)

General gist of these two chapters is that talent identification is perhaps not a useful indicator of future performance success. Kids who do well at age group level do not necessarily go on to do well at higher and world class levels. Even in a sport like tennis, there are bright prospects everywhere. A kid might win junior Wimbledon, but that doesn’t mean success in the adult league is guaranteed. Therefore rather than investing efforts in talent identification at a young age, governing bodies, funding agencies and coaches would do better to monitor performers over the course of their development.

Another interesting point is that the research shows that early specialisation does not necessarily improve performance in the long run. Rather, kids who have a broad experience in a variety of domains and specialisations develop key motor skills that they can transfer to their discipline of choice when they choose to specialise.

It was also interesting to note from the book that there is a high number of performers who end performing in disciplines which were their second, third, for fourth choice/preference. Take for example, Rafael Nadal—Nadal was a footballer before choosing to focus on tennis. Same with Roger Federer. Two of the best players to every play the sport of tennis, started out in a completely different sport.

The key I guess is focusing on enjoyment of sport in general when kids are young. The love of movement, being outdoors, challenge, competition and engaging in sport in general is what is most important when kids are young.