Talent: A challenging concept that more than ever requires a more humanistic approach to support its emergence.

Talent: A challenging concept that more than ever requires a more humanistic approach to support its emergence.

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Al Smith from My Fastest Mile sees talent as the potential to be something- “it is something that has yet to be expressed”. Recently there has been a lot of criticism of the fact that many refer to small children as talent

Al, who himself has worked with many elite athletes wonders how children can be as good as possible when they reach adulthood. He sees the present view around the child in sport, talent and the expectations that come with this as a big problem.” The label talent creates expectations particularly for the parent more than the child. Often the child is being driven to sport because the parent has so much expectation of success and that it could change life for the child and the family. The more money that is in sport the more sport seems to be reaching down to children saying you are a footballer, a cricket player, you are a rugby player. That is wrong, you don’t know what that child is going to be. The best way for them to be a successful footballer as an adult is to not specialise in one sport when they are young but to have a diverse experience. All the evidence we have in many different domains is that you are more likely to be successful if you have a very rich learning environment as a young person with different experiences in different sports and outside of sport and YOU LEARN T BE A LEARNER and be adaptable and be creative. The more competitive sport becomes, the more creative and adaptable you must be”.

Al struggles with the thought of young people been asked to put everything in to one box and the parents asked to support this because they are told that this is what your child will be! A very low percentage become elite athletes. Most that enter this system fall out of it and we hear very little about them. As discussed in the interview with Per Göran Fahlström “one cannot shape and form children’s sports around small numbers and say that this is what sport is all about”.

Tommi Hämäläinen works with talent development at Finnish Ice Hockey club HIFK. He believes that every coach has the duty to develop the individual. We are working with many different individuals and you must treat them as individuals. “You cannot have just one concept that you learnt a long time ago. You cannot have a concept primarily based on how you were taught. Children today are not the same as children were before”.

Echoing Peter Grays superb essay “The Play Deficit“, it is Hämäläinen’s personal opinion that many children involved in these early elite competitive environments are lacking in empathy. “Everyone thinks only of themselves, they think only of themselves as a way to cope in their incredibly tough competitive situation. We must have a regular dialogue with these children. It is very important in their early years that through warm relationships they experience love and kindness”. Adults are always in a hurry somewhere, keeping schedules, they don’t get a chance to spend so much time with their children.

“Children and young people who devote themselves heart and soul to football deserves responsible and knowledgeable leaders- We have high goals. A children’s rights perspective and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are the basis for the wording in our curriculum” Urban Hammer (Head of Coach Education at the Swedish FA)

Hämäläinen’s ambitions resonate with those expressed by Urban Hammar at the Swedish FA. Teachers, leaders and coaches must be educated from a more humanistic perspective and we need to apply this in our behaviour in and around children. It is after all an adult structured competitive system that we have been mainly using on children. The result orientated climate has its roots in a lack of understanding and especially lack of knowledge on the side of parents who chauffer their children to every training and game often over very long distances. “Through try-outs and early selection programs many friends are lost on the way when the clubs are so competitively structured and oriented. This has a great impact on children. It creates a culture of self at a very early age and in the long run may have a negative effect of the type of person they become on entering society as an adult”. Do we want a society where everyone just competes and is obsessed with results? There is nothing at all wrong with children competing but the “spirit” of child sport loses its meaning when we adults place our adult emphasis on results. So again we ask – Why are we talking about winning and losing when we should be talking about learning?

When we examine the many interviews and research work done here at Footblogball we see that many governing bodies (see IOC Statement), clubs and individuals are reflecting on this and we are beginning to understand that this is an experiment that is going horribly wrong.

The learning process of children in sport and the environment where it takes place- What does it look like?

“we should look at the evidence where most of it suggests that the environment should be free and self-organised, one that offers the opportunity to explore with a limited involvement from adults constraining how the learning takes place. The role of a coach is to shape the space for learning but let the learner engage with the opportunity to explore and discover. I am a very strong proponent of discovery learning that often gets misinterpreted as hands off coaching where the coach isn’t doing anything. Actually the coach has spent all the time before shaping the learning environment, building in the challenge and all the affordances that allow someone to explore and discover how to improve. Then afterwards the coach is helping the learner to reflect on what they have learned and anchor it to new experiences. So the job of coaching happens before and after and during the learning experience the coach should be in the background and maybe just gently shaping things once they see what is emerging. But so many coaches see their role as being in your face telling you what to do and that is not coaching for me”- Al Smith

As coaches we need to believe in our young players not just as athletes but as people. As Dr Martin Toms says: The best youth sport coaches are “Chameleons” who can adapt themselves to the coaching environment & the needs of ALL the kids they coach. This requires a more humanistic approach. This will provide us and them with the tools for future success. The linear assumption that a good player at 8 makes a good player at 20 is a big problem in many early specialised environments. A lot of things happen in between. If we have a wider base in the beginning one that embraces diversity and awakens a passion for sport and we underpin this with a more humanistic approach then maybe we can achieve the aim of as many as possible, as long as possible in the best environment possible.

And talent, well that is a by-product of all this, a challenging concept that more than ever requires a more humanistic approach to support its emergence.

On The Footblogball Stereo



3 thoughts on “Talent: A challenging concept that more than ever requires a more humanistic approach to support its emergence.

  1. […] Talent: A challenging concept that more than ever requires a more humanistic approach to support its… by Mark O’Sullivan explores whether talent is a really a concept we should be talking about and promoting in youth sport. Perhaps we should be talking about learning and the willingness to learn, rather than other attributes that are more associated with ‘talent’? […]

  2. I coach a lot of very young children, 6 – 12. The number one intervention they ask me to make is to stop other kids from being unkind. I might be focusing on dribbling, they are focusing on happiness. Nurturing “Talent” appears to be pretty far down their list of priorities.

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