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Talent Identification & Development on an International Basis

Brian Grasso

Coaching plays a significant role within the realm of talent identification. In fact, it has been suggested that key issues within the talent identification stage include having “many highly qualified and well-educated coaches,” and a “guarantee that these highly qualified and well-educated coaches work with beginners and not only high-level athletes.” This latter point is an objectionable issue, certainly within North American sports. Many resources have pointed to the fact that within talent identification, the keen eye of a qualified coach (observing young athletes during both training as well as competition) is the true initial phase of identification and that subsequent testing and medical assessment serves as little more than a reinforcement of the facts. The issue resides in the fact that the base level of sport (beginning youth), is lacking many truly qualified and well-educated coaches. The best coaches in North America (and that includes strength and conditioning professionals) often clamor to work exclusively with the more elite athletes within a system; the young athletes are therefore left with inadequately trained coaches or volunteers. The results in the talent pool of a given country can be disastrous—

  • Political posturing for the best young athletes in order to “win” rather than creating a development process that equally benefits and directs all youngsters.
  • Overuse and acute injury due to early sport specialization and inadequate conditioning means (in lieu of properly designed, developmentally-based training stimulus).
  • * Emotional burnout due to increased pressure and mandates to “win.”

  • An alienation of the less talented young athletes can lead to a cessation of physical training altogether, and therefore dangerous ramifications in the lifelong health of those youngsters

A visual picture of the athlete talent pool within North America might look like this:

ELITE ATHLETES: National Team, Olympic, Professional


YOUTH ATHLETES: Rec. Sports, House Leagues

Again, the issue lies in the fact that we have our best coaches working, often exclusively, with the top caliber athletes within this paradigm. The phase or stage with the largest talent pool and most sensitive needs is left to volunteer coaches and parents with little, to no education in the appropriate sport sciences.

Talent Selection & Development

Talent selection is the second stage “in the process of nurturing potential high performers in sport,” while talent development represents the third stage. Typically, competition is the primary means of “selection” with respect to young athlete advancement. However, a critical point here is the issue of early selection. Those who mature and grow at a slower rate are often at a distinct disadvantage with respect to selection via competition. It is commonly only those young individuals who excel in competition at a young age who are offered, or seek, additional abet in the form of adjunct training and other forms of sport science services (therapeutic care, nutritional support or psychological development for example). Without a distinct nation-wide development system, such as in North America, it is often only those with financial resources that are able to seek such services. It would appear to be more beneficial to have a systematic and structured means of development in which the coaches and handlers of young athletes are supremely qualified and athletic advancement is open and available to all young people within the nation.

National Systems

The following is a general overview of the approach various country’s take with respect to talent identification, selection and development, as described in “talent identification and selection & development,”from the Institute of Youth Sports.

The three distinct phases of sporting development are evident within the Australian system through their Talent Search Program:

Phase One:
Adolescents aged fourteen to sixteen are screened within their school setting via a series of eight physical and physiological assessments, the results of which are correlated against a national database. If the youngsters’ scores show a favorable correlation versus the national standards, then they are progress on to Phase Two. Phase One, therefore, serves as the identification stage of development.

Phase Two:
The testing or screening process continues in this phase, but becomes more sport specific in nature. The specific testing protocol serves to hone the results found in Phase One. If increased potential for a specific sport is indicated, then more advanced laboratory assessments will likely be conducted; this would be considered the “selection” phase.

Phase Three:
Young athletes who have been identified as talented and selected towards a particular sport via testing, will be invited to participate in a talented athlete program, which would be considered the “development” phase of this system.

The Australian Talent Search Programme was developed in the late 1980s and fully implemented by 1994. Guided by the Australian Sports Commission, plans and programs were created for particular sports, such as:

  • Athletics (track & field)
  • Canoeing
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Triathlon
  • Water polo
  • Weightlifting

It was determined that sufficient talent development was viable in these sports, over the six-year interval leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), which opened in 1981, is involved intimately with the talent development process nation-wide. The AIS strives to “enhance the sporting performances of Australia’s elite and potential elite athletes and teams” . Specifically, the AIS provides training facilities and lodging for high-performance and future elite athletes. The AIS also provides access to the following amenities:

  • Elite Coaches
  • Strength & Conditioning Coaches/Programs
  • Nutritional Guidance
  • Career & Educational Support
    adapted from ‘Talent identification, selection & development’ p. 11

The AIS offers roughly 600 scholarships annually. The scholarship athletes must enlist in a technical or academic course, or they may wish to seek employment. School aged scholarship athletes are enrolled in a local school where they are monitored and required to maintain a certain level of academic progress.

i Institute of Youth Sport p. 8
ii Institute of Youth Sport p. 8
iii Institute of Youth Sport p. 8
iv Institute of Youth Sport p. 8


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