This weekend I had the opportunity to present at The Royal Society (London) as part of the Rugby Football Union’s Talent Symposium event. Not only was this a privilege to present at such a prestigious venue but to be invited to present at this unique event alongside some of the worlds leading experts on talent identification, talent development and expertise was a real honour.
The RFU’s aim for the symposium was “to consolidate, solidify, and broadly disseminate strong, evidence-based recommendations for provider practice in the field of rugby union talent identification, development and selection.” Talent is a word commonly used in sport but understanding what this actually means, how it can be identified and developed is not so easy and the RFU should be congratulated on organising such an event to support the development of the sports future stars!
Rob Andrew controlled proceedings throughout and Stuart Lancaster (England Head Coach) kicked off the weekend with why the development of talent is so important for the success of England Rugby in the future. What followed was a non stop showcase and discussions on the issues of talent identification and development. This included:
- An Overview of Talent (Dr Steve Cobley, Professor Lew Hardy)
- The Question of Natural Talent – Nature vs Nurture (Dr Yannis Pitsiladis, Dr Ross Tucker)
- Psychological and Behavioural Factors for Talent (Prof Paul Ward, Dr Aine MacNamara, Prof Mark Williams)
- Risks and Challenges in Talent Identification (Me, Anne Pankhurst, Prof Joe Baker)
- Talent Development Environments (Dr Jorg Schorer, Richard Shuttleworth, Prof Bruce Abernethy)
My presentation was based around my research findings within Rugby League from my PhD (see an earlier Blog for an overview) and included some practical applications from the RFL’s talent development programme. I learnt so much and had some great conversations throughout and below is a brief (I tried to make it brief) summary of some of the main take home messages
- Talent identification and development is a multifactorial and complex process
- Relative age effects and maturation impact how ability / talent is perceived in youth athletes
- Delay selection as long as possible – Post maturation!
- Mental toughness is an important psychological attribute – and it can be trained!
- Recruitment of younger players = a more likely younger exit from the sport. Later recruitment = higher senior success. Therefore, delay selection.
- We cannot currently predict performance through genetic testing – more research is needed
- 10,000 hours is not needed for expert performance and Ericsson forgot the issue of variance in his 10,000 hour rule
- Eventual elite athletes have less exposure in a sport up to 15 years of age compared to those that do not go on to be successful
- Experts know what they know (and also what they don’t!)
- A Bio-psycho-social approach to athlete development is essential
- Putting speed bumps (with support pre and post) is a useful strategy to develop talent
- Non-coach led activity is important for future development (Encourage children to PLAY!!)
- Learning is best developed with infrequent interaction, random practice and low levels of feedback. Coaches – BE AWARE!
- Decision making is vital – test and train it!
- Provide as many development opportunities to as many players as possible
- Monitor athletes on an individual and longitudinal basis
- Change coaches attitudes from Winning to Long Term Development
- Know the four ages – chronological age, biological age, relative age and sporting age. They all have an effect on identification and development of players
- Early specialisation leads to physical (i.e., injury) and psycho-social (i.e., compromised social development) problems
- Data informs our decisions – therefore collect and analyse it!
- Know what your sport will look like in the future – remember you are developing the stars of tomorrow not today!
- We need to develop long term practical and research relationships
- Experts have less effortful motor performance, anticipate actions quicker and recognise patterns easier
- Where you are born may be as important as when you are born
- Longitudinal, multidimensional talent identification research is needed for us to understand this complex process
Hopefully this provides a good summary of the content delivered. However, the conference probably threw up a lot more questions than answers – most importantly – do we really know what talent is and how to develop it? I wish the RFU all the best in developing their consensus and I am sure this great weekend will have gone a long way to achieving that. If you’ like to discuss any of this then as always get in touch