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«Developing the Potential of Young People in Sport A report for sportscotland by The University of Edinburgh Developing the Potential of Young People ...»

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More recently, anthropometrics and performance have dominated TI. This approach has considerable ‘face validity’, whilst also offering coaches with a comparatively clear pathway to progress. In short, “cream off the best then work with them” has represented the underpinnings of successful systems in sport (particularly in controlled societies such as Korea and eastern Europe), and despite the antieducational nature of this approach, there are many National Governing Bodies (NGBs), coaches and even educational establishments which still subscribe to it. As a result, perhaps, many teachers and health promotion specialists have a very negative view of sport, leading to a reluctance to get involved in anything with ‘sport’ or ‘talent’ in the title. However, these negative consequences are definitely not inevitable, and result from the NGBs’ (and therefore the coach’s) preoccupation with current performance over long-term development. Hopefully, our earlier report (Abbott, Collins, Martindale & Sowerby, 2002) went some way to attacking this stereotype, and offered the ‘new way’ which DPYPS employs.

As already stated, the broader objectives of DPYPS relate to the promotion of lifelong physical activity and, more generally, developing the ‘characteristics of excellence’ through sport. The first aim, the psychomotor component, builds on an increasing research base on the importance of actual and perceived physical competence as an important precursor to initiating and maintaining physical activity. The second, the psycho-behavioural aspect, focuses on the development of a ‘can try, solutionfocused’ approach, once again a characteristic shown consistently by research to play a crucial role in achievement across a variety of settings. The roles played by these two components are examined in more depth within the next section. As a preparation to reading the report, however, it is important to emphasise that it is the interaction of these objectives, rather than either in isolation, which offers the greatest return. This integration represents another original but well founded innovation offered by the DPYPS approach.

Accordingly, this report presents the results of a first pilot run for these ideas: a pilot which must be considered against the considerable time, resources and still continuing efforts which have been applied to the anthropometrics approach. In addition, and in contrast to these earlier approaches, we have stressed the need for partnerships with workers in the field. Rather than provide a resource solely from the safety of an academic environment, we have set out to develop the programme organically, adjusting its specifics to meet the practicalities and peculiarities of the testing environments. As such, the ‘action research’ which has resulted offers as much development as it does evaluation of the approach itself.

One other feature is worthy of explicit consideration. DPYPS represents a philosophy as well as a set of resources, built within a multi-factored system. As such, it is worth repeating that it would be well nigh impossible to disaggregate the various elements and ascribe percentage variances to each element for its partial contribution. Indeed, such sub-division of the programme would run counter to both the theoretical underpinnings of its design and the intended objectives of its application. We strongly believe that, if the programme has worked, and if its theoretical underpinnings survive rigorous and challenging debate, then the package should be taken forwards as a whole. As this report highlights, there is a number of approaches currently in use. We suggest that critical debate, with sensible integration of best practice, represents the most effective way towards achievement of the crucial objectives which this programme is designed to achieve. We look forward to that debate, and hope that this report will serve as a stimulus to an even better and more effective, conglomerate programme.

Against this wide-ranging backdrop therefore, the report sets out a careful and systematic examination of each facet of the DPYPS approach. Each section considers a particular feature of the initiative, starting with the overarching philosophy, moving through the content and methodology, to the resources and professional training, to the specific impacts of the package employed. As such, sections should be considered sequentially, with consideration paid to the justification for the approach employed followed by the empirical evidence which supports and/or questions this approach. As a consequence, each stage of the process can be confirmed AND refined in the light of knowledge gained. Finally then, the total package can be reconsidered as a holistic programme, against the potential and actual contributions which it can make. We will employ this approach ourselves, in discussion of the findings within the final section of the report.

Section 2 The Philosophy and Structure of the Project

2.1 Justification for the Philosophy Adopted Over the years, many models of TID have been proposed. Unfortunately, however, a review commissioned by sportscotland preceding the design and piloting of the DPYPS programme highlighted both theoretical and conceptual weaknesses with traditional approaches to TID (Abbott et al, 2002). This chapter provides an overview of these limitations and a theoretical justification for the approach adopted within DPYPS, with key messages summarised in boxes to highlight pertinent points.





2.1.1 A Short Revision of the Arguments Underpinning the DPYPS Approach A Static versus a Dynamic Concept of Talent TI initiatives in sport have typically based the identification of the ‘talented’ on a range of discrete, outcome-based variables (e.g., performance or height at 12 years of age) thought to underpin success (Davids, Lees & Burwitz, 2000). For example, the Australian Talent Search programme, in identifying the ‘talented’ in rowing, considers the performance of children on the basketball throw, sprint and shuttle run tasks.

Such ‘snap-shot’ performance variables however fail to capture the processes that elite athletes exploit to satisfy task demands. As an example, a photograph of an elite batter in baseball may not set him apart from a lesser player, whereas detailed analysis of digital video is much more likely to reveal why he is so successful.

Similarly, a photograph of a young rugby player scoring a try will provide little information about the attribute or attributes that enabled him or her to score that try (e.g., skill, strength, quality of opposition, determination). Consequently, this snapshot of performance is unlikely to provide an insight into the youngster’s potential to develop into an elite rugby player. The point to be made here is that more sensitive measures of ability are needed to provide a better understanding of the processes underpinning skilful performance (Button, Davids & Schöllhorn, 2003;

Guion, 1998).

Of course, discrete performance variables may be helpful in signposting potential athletes during development. For example, measures of strength may highlight the need for an athlete to emphasise the development of this component to a greater extent. However, we should not be fooled into believing that measures on discrete performance variables can distinguish future performers. If an individual does not currently display a desired behaviour, this may be because an important factor (e.g., self-confidence) is absent or because it will not develop or emerge until later.

Consequently, the key problem is not so much in identifying the best performer at any one time but instead, identifying over time which factors may be limiting talent development. Within the motor development literature, Thelen (1995) highlights how certain behaviours ‘wait in the wings’ and only emerge when the supporting subsystems and processes are ready. The lack of a characteristic, such as mental focus, which may take several years to develop fully (Gould, Dieffenbach & Moffett, 2002) may hinder the identification of young and otherwise very talented athletes.

Therefore, the comparative delay of one component (e.g., hand size) may act as a ‘rate limiter’, preventing another required behaviour from being observable (e.g., hand-eye coordination). As a result, a small retuning of one component can often lead to an unexpected, non-linear change in development and performance.

However, traditional TID models that select the ‘talented’ based on a limited range of discrete variables treat performance as linear and therefore fail to recognize the dynamic nature of talent.

It is worth noting that, due to this dynamic and evolving nature of talent, the likelihood of identifying a talented athlete of the future increases as a function of time. In other words, the number (and accuracy) of ‘potentially talented’ individuals identified will increase with the age of the athlete as values on desirable attributes progress towards their mature state. Clearly therefore, the earlier a traditional linear model of TI is employed, the more potentially talented individuals will be eliminated. In summary, the dynamic evolution of talent seems to suggest that the focus of TI models in sport, and probably other performance domains, should shift from early identification towards developmental aspects. This was a key consideration during the design of the DPYPS programme.

An additional and crucial consideration that needs to be acknowledged in the design of TID models is that “not only may the composition of a given talent change as a person ages, but the optimal talent domain may change as well” (Simonton, 1999, p.445). Examples below highlight how many successful athletes have transferred from one sport to become elite at an alternate sport. In fact, this domain change by individuals has been identified as an important component within British sport (Moore, Collins, Burwitz & Jess, 1998). Consequently, early practices designed to facilitate the growth and self-organisation of key components needs to cater for this potential domain change by incorporating ‘generic’ concepts underpinning sporting talent rather than limiting experiences to sport specific practices. Even if a person does not transfer to a different sport, such practices should help athletes develop the ability to adapt performance to suit different situations and environments. In fact, the subtle adaptation (or transfer) of coordination patterns is arguably what enables elite sports people such as Tiger Woods (golf), David Beckham (soccer) and Graeme Randall (Judo) to maintain very high levels of performance consistency over the course of several playing seasons. Accordingly, the importance of children developing a ‘generic’ skills package that they are subsequently able to adapt successfully across different contexts was a core consideration during the design of DPYPS.

Basketball: John Amaechi, forward/centre for the Utah Jazz is the only citizen of Great Britain currently playing in America's National Basketball Association (2003 season). His first love was Rugby and it was only a chance outing at the age of 16 at the local basketball court that enticed Amaechi to give basketball a try.

Athletics: Linford Christie was involved in athletics as a youth. However, until the age of 16, this involvement lacked commitment. The turning point appears to have been in the summer of 1985 (age 25) when Ron Roddan (his coach) and Andy Norman (promotions officer for British Athletics) sent letters to him saying, in effect, use your talent or leave athletics. That lit a fire, and the next year Christie lowered his 100-metre best from 10.42 to 10.04 and went on to claim his first major title. In 1992, he became the Olympics 100m title holder.

Ballet: At the age of 14, Ryan Nye was on track to play cornerback or linebacker one day for the Waterville Senior High School football team when he took up ballet. At 14 he was a late starter and had to reshape his body before he could master the many movements and the extraordinary extension demanded of a quality ballet dancer. By the age of 15, he was playing lead roles in the Bossov Ballets.

2.1.1.1 Key Attributes of Physical Talent Moving Beyond a Reliance on Performance and Physical Measures Acknowledging the dynamic nature of talent in the design of DPYPS Recognising that the optimal sporting domain of an individual may change over time, the initial focus of the DPYPS programme shifted away from sport specific development to the development of attributes that underpin physical development and performance across sporting domains. Additionally, we incorporated activities into the programme that required these generic attributes to be adapted to different contexts. As such, consideration was given to generic motor (e.g., balance), cognitive (e.g., decision making) and psychological skills (e.g., commitment) that can facilitate (or if absent, limit) talent development in physical settings. The following section highlights the specific attributes promoted within the DPYPS programme and provides a rationale for their incorporation into the programme.

Traditional approaches to TI have typically focused on selecting the talented by obtaining a snapshot of a child’s or adolescent’s performance capacity, or by looking for physical factors that favourably compare to expert performers in a specific field (e.g., height for high-jumpers). However, these conventional measures of talent do not acknowledge that a child’s performance and physique are likely to be affected by a range of variables such as past experiences, physical maturity, test-taking skills and parental support. Firstly, long-term predictions cannot be made solely on the basis of a few physical characteristics due to their unstable and nonlinear development over time. The test-retest data in Figures 2.1 and 2.2 was recently collected in Scotland and clearly shows how the aerobic capacity and height (and consequent ‘potential’!) of children (aged 11-12 yrs) can vary considerably across a small period of time (Abbott & Collins, 2002). The implication is clear; discrete physical and performance measures cannot be employed as reliable determinants of future values.

–  –  –

Figure 2.2: One year test-retest reliability in Scottish children’s height Of course, inter-individual variance in physique will also be influenced by a range of important environmental characteristics such as diet and exercise levels (Parizkova, 1977; Dollman, Olds, Norton & Stuart, 1999).



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