New study recommends that kids should specialise early, do 10,000 hours and be genetically tested to
OK so I might have slightly over reached here...but there are some very interesting recommendations being proposed in this paper which has some really strong challenges for the talent development community.
The paper presents a consensus position based on a 'meta-analysis' of the available research into talent development in sport that has a number of wide ranging implications for the sporting landscape including some interesting conclusions that may raise a few eyebrows.
Below I have lifted the headline recomendations and added some thoughts and field notes under each one.
“We therefore recommend that policy makers and practitioners consider the possibility of using genetic profiling to help athletes make more informed and appropriate decisions about sport type and discipline during their development years”.
This is something new and it is the first time I have seen an academic paper make a recommendation if this type. It suggests that the genetic research has now reached a point where there are certain elements that can be reliably tested for which could assist practitioners, children and parents to make informed decisions about sports to persue.
The concept of sport selection based on some genetic markers starts to move away from the idea of the 'mixed sport diet' advocated by supporters of the late specialisation model. This represents a potential paradigm shift in sports development where we move away from a broad participation model where the child selects the sport that the enjoy the most towards a concept where the 'sport selects the child' based on their genetic propensity to succeed.
“We therefore recommend that practitioners make use of physiological testing for purposes of informing the training process, and make use of anthropometric profiling and physiological tests for both talent selection and development purposes, but policy makers and practitioners should ensure that such action is accompanied by appropriate procedures (considering biological maturation) to ‘re-capture’ lost/missed late maturers”.
Dr Sean Cumming from the University of Bath is leading a global team of specialists in assessing growth and maturation of players to assist in providing competitive opportunities that are based on biological age rather than chronological age. Some early findings provide some interesting support for this recommendation. I did a vlog on this a few posts back.
It is important to stress that, as the authors point out, this is very dependent on the sport. For example, Dr Ben Jones and Kevin Till at Leeds Beckett University have some interesting research in Rugby League that shows physical size to be a less reliable predictor of elite prowess than agility and power. Sir Steve Redgrave was famously deselected from the GB rowing programme at the age of 14 based on his lack of hieght.
Sports will need to have some relaiable and clear ideas of which measures offer reliable predictions of elite success. My concern is that the tape measure will replace the coach as the mechanism to identify those with potential.
“We therefore recommend that practitioners make use of psychological profiling for talent development purposes. Key questions for future research include examining the causes of exceptional levels of motivation, resilience and mental toughness, including assessing whether and how psychological skills at junior level influence long-term adult elite/super-elite performance. How do exceptional performers use their anxiety in a positive way? How do the world’s best performers maintain focus and concentration, while avoiding lapses into conscious control? How can these skills be trained?”.
My observation is that we seem under resourced here across the landscape! I see very little provision for psychologocal support for the talented athlete and even in the elite space the provision feels like an after though in comparison to the resources allocated for other more 'hard science' domains. It seems that everyone wants physically robust players but they are less interested in mentally robust players!
Having spent several years working in the talent field with a range of sports organisations I see the lack of dedicated resources to support young athletes develop the behaviours and mental skills
Surely this needs to be addressed if we are going to really produce athletes with the qualities required to reach elite levels?
“We therefore recommend that practitioners might make use of personality profiling for talent development but not talent selection purposes. Future research could focus on whether there are other important (combinations of) personality characteristics that are necessary for the development of a strong competitive personality and how these characteristics might be best developed”.
I have often felt that if coaches are to truly be player centred and begin to understand how players respond to various environmental influences or co