What We Know Is That We Don’t Know

A Chinese bamboo plant takes 10 years to grow 15 cm, then in 6 months it grows 3,5 m .  Did the plant grow 3,5m in 6 months or 3,5m feet and 15cm  in 10 years and 6 months.


The Panathlon Charter on the Rights of the Child in Sport’.

All Children have the right

  • ·         to practice sports to enjoy themselves and to play to live in a healthy environment
  • ·         to be treated with dignity
  • ·         to be trained and coached by competent people
  • ·         to take part in training that is adapted to their age, individual rhythm and competence
  • ·         to match themselves against children of the same level in a suitable competition
  • ·         to practice sport in safe conditions
  • ·         to rest
  • ·         to have the opportunity to become a champion, or not to be a champion

   What we know is that we don’t know

It is generally agreed that the development of talent in sport is a dynamic, complex non- linear process. One thing that we know is…… that we don’t know. Meaning that predicting talent before a player reaches adulthood is a near impossible task.


  Early Specialisation

Early specialisation models are mostly built on the promotion of deliberate practice. Rather than just play. This environment rewards early success and performance with early selection to elite programs. It is a model for promoting and achieving short term goals.Loyola University released a study in 2013 provided alarming evidence between early specialisation and sport related injuries. Those who spent less time in free play (deliberate play) fell victim to more sport related injuries. Further studies elsewhere  show that the early specialisation can lead to burn out,  a development of a limited range of motor skills– physical literacy and a big drop off in participation in adulthood. The early specialisation model falls short by failing to take in to account its  social, psychological and physical shortcomings  the very  factors that help shape and form a player’s skill level and performance


 Deliberate Practice v Deliberate Play

Deliberate practice: Highly structured with the main motivation of improving performance. It is recommended that a focus on deliberate practice should be encouraged at the beginning of adolescence and not during childhood.

Deliberate Play: Activities in which children participate because they are inherently enjoyable (Cote et al; 2007) Provides the space for kids to be creative. Play is Intrinsically motivating and fun and provides immediate gratification. A study of Australian rules football found that those who had experienced more deliberate play as children were better decision makers.

 Early exposure to a diversification of sports with delayed specialisation

Early diversification is beneficial to longterm talent development in sport. Longer playing careers (Barynina, Vaitsekovski, 1992) higher level of physical capacity and a more all-round motor skill base –  Physical Literacy. Early diversification of sports provides us with  great potential  for a more holistic learning and transfer of  skills. Problem solving, pattern recognition and decision making may be improved (Baker et al ;2003).  If we couple this research with that of  Marije Elferink-Gemser  from the University of Groningen (Netherlands) we get an overall clearer picture. Gemser noted that in a study of elite Dutch footballers, progress from youth to professional level is highly dependent on the player’s ability to understand the tactical concepts and to put them into practice. The ability to be in the right place at the right time and to make correct decisions is the most important factor in determining future success The research also  recommended that coaches pay attention to these aspects when looking to identify talented players.

 Game Centered Chain


The execution of this chain goes a long way in determining how successful  and talented a player will become.

The early exposure late specialisation philosophy  seems to satisfy all the factors that shape and form a players skill level and performance in the longterm. It also suggests that while talent identification seems more focussed on the short term goals. According to Australian Sports Scientist Mark Upton it is just the identification  of “superior-performance-at-one-moment-in-time”.

I suggest a more patient talent observation attitude is required for this very complex non-linear process  to develop to its potential.

What we know is that we don’t know!


4 thoughts on “What We Know Is That We Don’t Know

  1. […] Talent development in any sport is a complex, dynamic, non-linear process. There is little consistent evidence that links early intense training with becoming an elite level athlete. Early prediction of talent years in advance of adulthood is almost impossible as numerous other factors come in to play in the development of sports skills and no formal pathway predicts success.  What we know is that we don’t know. […]

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