Talent Identification and Development
Talent identification and development (TID) describes the process of an athlete moving into, and/or progressing up, the high performance pathway to an elite or mastery status.
Within the FTEM framework, the T1 and T2 phases expand the concept of talent identification to include consideration of a broad range of holistic athlete attributes and a period of confirmation to improve selection decisions.
The T3 and T4 phases advocate a process of deliberate programming to optimise athlete development.
Demonstration of potential
At the T1 phase, athletes typically exhibit demonstrable gifts or talents in the physical, physiological, psychological and skill domain, which indicate potential in high performance sport. This may occur through formal (TID testing) or informal TID processes including self-identification prompted by an individual’s self-awareness of their ability to outperform their peers. In recognition of the complexity and limits of athlete prediction, T1 represents an initial assessment of potential only and ideally should be confirmed in the next FTEM phase, T2.
Advocated best practice
- Adoption of an evidence-based, multidimensional and inclusive approach where an athlete’s current profile and future talent potential (cognisant of their maturational status) is gauged
- Complement of talent selection and detection/transfer recruitment strategies.
The confirmation or verification of talent (T2) is seen as sequential and complementary to T1, where evidence based testing (T1) is supplemented by the subjective judgements of coaches and talent scouts within the training and competition environment. There are no fixed time frames for the T2 process, although months rather than days or weeks are recommended.
During the T2 phase, athletes are observed in a trial period of a specific training and competition environment to demonstrate and confirm their ‘trainability’ (sport-specific skill acquisition), commitment, motivation, ‘coachability’, and other positive psychological, self-management and relevant traits. This phase is crucial to confirm whether initial impressions of potential can be sustained. Verification of talent by a known benchmark ideally leads to formal support of an athlete within the T3 phase.
Advocated best practice
Verification of an athlete’s future talent potential through formalised, multidimensional assessments within training and competition settings specific to:
- Psychological skills and character
- Sport-specific skill potential
- Physicality and adaption to training loads
- Coachability, commitment and motivation.
Practising and achieving
After being confirmed as potential elite athletes (T2), athletes are now committed to sport specific practice and investment in high training volumes, striving for continual performance improvements.
This phase arguably contains the largest cohort of future elite athletes, yet they also represent the most vulnerable participants due to traditional funding and athlete support priorities being preferentially aligned to the ends of the pathway, rather than the middle. This often translates into a number of deficiencies in key development areas including coaching, competition, equipment etc. Central to maximising an athlete’s development at this level is the strategy of deliberate programming [Bullock et al., 2009]. In addition to skill practice, deliberate programming encompasses other planned factors such as high-quality strategic planning, access to quality coaching, equipment and the best possible competitions. Further, technical, financial and sport science and medicine support is advocated to ensure athletes fulfil their potential [Bullock et al., 2009].
Quality of the development environment is critical at this level in order to reduce potential dropout and underachievement. Given the measureable lack of attention often provided to athletes at this phase of development, T3 represents a fertile area for future investment and potential international advantage.
Advocated best practice
- Effective overarching strategic planning and commitment featuring strong deliberate programming including individualised athlete case management
- Best practice talent development environments informed by state-of-the-art skill acquisition and characterised by:
- ongoing athlete education (eg self-regulation, time management, performance psychology skills)
- ongoing support and coach education (eg appropriate remuneration, mentoring and development/education emphasising contemporary, evidence-based practice fostering self-regulation, load management)
- transitional, re-locational and dual career support and management for athletes (eg maintaining a strong alliance with schools, universities and workplaces to provide accessible athlete-friendly and flexible study/work programs)
- training strategies promoting athlete skill progression and adaptability under competition-like contexts, fatigue and variable environmental constraints
- effective athlete monitoring and feedback particularly utilising an athlete management system (AMS)
- vertical integration with elite athletes and coaches
- providing formalised and supported talent transfer and amnesty opportunities for athletes who leave a program (eg Gymnastics Australia 'Spin to Win' program, which provides opportunities for high level gymnasts to transition to other acrobatic sports such as diving and aerial skiing).
Breakthrough and reward
Gaining formalised and professional support for continued development is the key feature of T4. An athlete’s efforts to improve their performance at T3 are essentially rewarded at T4 where they may earn an athletic scholarship at a university or an institute/academy of sport. Similarly, they may be drafted into a professional team or an elite training squad greatly enhancing their chances of becoming an ‘elite’ athlete. Performing well at a key event (eg a major championship) can also be a critical milestone that leads to the increased likelihood of being noticed and supported by the sport or the high performance sport system.
Maximisation of interaction between pre-elite and elite athletes (‘vertical integration’) is critical to advance a T4 athlete’s development. In addition, T4 presents a critical transition point into open international competition (E1).
Advocated best practice
As above for T3 and also including:
- Preparation and facilitation of athlete transition to elite phases through:
- strong understanding of potential barriers through a program of research activities such as interviews, case studies and surveys
- implementation of proactive strategies to mediate the transition (eg providing access to role models and mentors through a formalised program)
- targeted training camps, international tours and competition.
- Access to financial support where possible through:
- National Sporting Organisation (NSO) stipends/subsidies
- establishing supporter groups/fundraising committees, perhaps through the Australian Sports Foundation, to supplement the limited financial resources that many NSOs have available for this level of athlete.