Talent Identification in the Western World – Over funded and Over rated.

Talent Identification in the Western World – Over funded and Over rated.


The concept of Talent Identification – TID for short – makes sense.

Do some standardised testing and screening of lots of kids, find the ones who can run faster, run further, jump longer, stretch better than the rest and bingo- you found talent!

It all grew out of the now “mythical” talent identification systems of the old Eastern Block (and more recently China) – and the countless stories we have all heard for the past 30 years about how the centralised government systems put every child in the nation through a series of TID testing protocols and then funnelled them in to the specific sports where their talent was most likely to be developed to its full potential.

But in the western world, in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at TID in Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Western Europe, with the exception of a few minor and specialised sports – it has failed and failed badly.

Yet TID is the first thing on the “wish list” of nations, provinces, cities and sporting organisations when they are putting together a high performance sports program.

Why have so many got it wrong?

There are five main reasons why TID in the Western World is largely a waste of time, money and effort.

  1. Most TID programs are based on physical parameters alone.The majority of TID programs are based on physical testing. Yet world class performance is about physical, mental, technical and tactical elements. If the person with the biggest VO2 Max won the Olympic Gold medal, then let’s talent id test everyone on a treadmill tomorrow! But success at the highest level is about confidence, technique, emotional control, over-coming adversity and setbacks, quality individualized nutrition, a strong work ethic, perseverance… and a thousand other things not tested for in most TID program. It’s like saying we can pick the Winner of the Kentucky Derby by finding out which horse is the tallest or the Winner of the Formula One by kicking the tyres of the nearest Ferrari.
  2. TID is not the end – its only the beginning. TID testing is only the beginning of the process. How do you develop the talent to it’s full potential? How do you deal with the expectations of parents and coaches who see the kid as “talented”? What’s the most appropriate pathway for really talented kids? So you can have the best TID program in the world but without an outstanding athlete development pathway, strategically aligned to a world class coach education and development pathway you are guessing!
  3. Politics in sports. Here’s a big killer. Sports Politics! If you find the most talented 30 swimmers in the world all in the one place in New York City………who coaches them? Which club do they go to? How do you decide who gets the benefits of all this talent? This problem has been seen time after time after time after time all over the world and in all sports. So many TID programs fall over because of the fighting, jealousy and bickering within sports about who “owns” the talent.
  4. We’re living in a democracy! Perhaps the most important point. The reason why the mass TID programs of the old Eastern Block and China worked is that the State had complete control over all aspects of the athletes’ lives.If the East German TID system found a potential world class basketballer – they had to play basketball. If the Russians uncovered a potentially great track and field star – they had to train for track and field. If you undertake a national swimming talent identification program in the USA and find the next Michael Phelps in Los Angeles but he wants to play soccer – he will play soccer!
  5. Generation Y hate being classified. And the final nail in the TID coffin. The concept of TID is completely out of touch with today’s world and Gen Y. Gen Y want to be individuals. They want to express themselves as unique people and hate being classified or grouped or be part of anything that is contrived. So the last thing a group of Y-ers will enjoy is being herded around a park being tested then told they fit a particular box – you will lose them before you can say “sit and reach”.

So what’s the alternative to the current out of date, out of touch and out of time Western version of  TALENT IDENTIFICATION?

Watch for the solutions to be posted on www.wgcoaching.com soon!

Wayne Goldsmith


  • Mick Posted June 7, 2009 7:48 pm

    In a similiar vain how much time and effort was put into small town heroes at the cost of other children who wanted to play sport for what it was ‘sport’

  • Wayne Goldsmith Posted June 25, 2009 10:35 am

    Thanks for the comment.

    Talent ID is like driving – everyone thinks they do it well, but statistics show that most people do it poorly!

    If success at top level is 90% mental – why are we spending 90% of our talent id funding on finding physical qualities?


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