Talent Identification and Development: So Much More Than Physical Ability

Talent Identification and Development: So Much More Than Physical Ability

Talent identification is one of the most fascinating and most talked about topics in sport.

However, most talent identification programs are based around an athlete’s physical ability or their physiological capacities.

There’s a great phrase that I really love here which is, “Real physical talent is harder to hide than it is to find.”

If you’ve got a kid in your coaching program who’s 13 or 14 years of age and they’ve got real talent – their speed, their skill level, their strength, their power, their “game-sense” stands out so clearly and so obviously that it doesn’t take a genius to spot it.

But when you look at great athletes and when you look at how athletes get to the top and stay there at senior level – it’s so much more than just the physical side of performance.

More than Muscle….

What I don’t understand in talent identification is why we don’t spend more time thinking about, considering, measuring and evaluating the mental and emotional aspects of performance.

If you look at the best athletes that you’ve worked with, the best athletes you’ve known, the best athletes that you’ve read about, the best athletes that you’ve had any experience with – and write down a list of what are the qualities they’ve got that makes them so great, your list is likely to look like this:

  • That they have great desire
  • They’re passionate
  • They’re determined
  • They fight hard
  • They never give up
  • They’ll overcome adversity and challenging situations
  • Their commitment level is very, very high
  • They do the little things right all the time
  • They train hard but they rest, recover and regenerate with just as much determination
  • Their commitment to all aspects of preparation is unparalleled

So many of the qualities that make athletes great have very little to do with their physical or physiological capacities.

I’m not saying that the physical and physiological aspects of talent not important. If you don’t have the right physical and physiological characteristics, chances of being a great athlete are limited.

But to be the best that you can be, at any level, it’s so much more than “muscle”.

It’s about the integration of mind and body and understanding the importance of those uncoachable – those difficult to measure things.

Coaching Greatness.

So many coaching programs are built around training strength, speed, power, endurance and agility.

Why? Because you can teach those things.

But if I said to you as a coach, “Teach that athlete to be more committed”or “Teach that athlete how to be more motivated”or Teach that athlete how to have more passion”, that’s very difficult.

There are no coaching courses that you can go through to teach you how to coach those things but you can easily study and learn how to change VO2 max, you can go and learn how to shift lactate thresholds, you can learn how to improve speed, lift weights etc.

One of the reasons I think coaches don’t spend enough time on these other really important aspects of talent development – e.g. the mental and emotional aspects of performance, is that they’re so much harder and so much more difficult to develop. The physical stuff is relatively easy to develop because you can see it, count it, measure it, video it – it’s more real and more tangible than things like “passion” or “desire” or “commitment” – but it’s also limited.

The Challenge.

So coaches, my challenge to you is this.

When you’re working with young kids and you’re looking at them as having the potential to be outstanding competitors and wanting them to realise their full potential as senior athletes, look beyond the physical, look beyond the obvious, look beyond those things you can see.

Look at the qualities of the athletes: their desire, their passion, their commitment, their determination, how they deal with adversity, how they overcome problems etc.

What happens to them when they’re injured?

Do they fight back?

Do they work harder than ever to get back on top?

Or do they just accept that they’re injured and then wait for the course of time to get them back on the field.

Observe them, look at them, get to know them and understand them because by understanding those aspects of who they are as human beings you can then coach them more effectively.

Look beyond the obvious, look at the things that are not quite so obvious – that’s where the greatness and qualities of outstanding coaches really come through.

Talent ID is about understanding the athletes, understanding their real potential, understanding their total potential – the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, technical, tactical and cultural aspects of who they are as a human being and as an athlete and systematically developing that potential over time through quality coaching.

CoachTED (Training, Education and Development) Questions:

  1. How do you define “talent” in your sport? What is “talent”?
  2. List the five qualities or characteristics that you as a coach look for when you are looking for “talented” athletes.
  3. Do you coach talented athletes any differently to other athletes? If so, how and why do you do this?

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