These two terms have become almost buzzwords in HP sport, coaching and parental discussions. Even now showing up in sports camps and coaching offerings for children as young as grade 7 “high performance running group for grade 7/8s”. or indirectly in rep tryouts or select teams.
Talent ID isn’t as simple as looking at an athlete and seeing that they have talent, or have run a certain time, thrown a certain distance or jumped a certain length/ height. Its more a question of does he or she have the attributes to be a podium pathway athlete? Do we have the accurate tools to identify them? Ie is our data sound? Once identified what does the athlete do for the next 7-8 years? (using the time frame for our Athletics Next Gen program) With that in mind, Talent ID shifts from just an identification problem to a budget issue. Remember Talent ID is an attempt to have a competitive advantage over your competitors ) ie on the international stage) because sport funding is limited and tied into results on the international stage, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of , if we just select the most obvious talent and guide them along the pathway with resources, we are making the most of our money! While this can work and there are examples of this happening in our sport in Canada, are we really selecting the best athletes? Is our funding being utilized most effectively?
Lets look at the problems of Talent ID and the management of it.
As mentioned resources don’t allow us to select everyone- nor should they, so as mentioned this turns TID into a budgeting choice to drive resources for the likeliest success profiles. If we have 100 espoir distance runners running at or near say FISU standards how do we best allocate these resources? The questions become then, who do we select? When do we select them? How do we select them?
Talent selection is challenging- is CSG sports (centimeteres, grams and seconds) sports we have it a bit easier, run a time, throw a distance or jump a distance and we have a quantitative value we can compare to data to see how you are tracking. So in our case we better make sure our data is correct! Think of Talent ID as a business plan you neighbour is pitching you to buy into. Your neighbour comes over and says hey I have this great idea for a business plan and we made this much in sales last week…. Are you going to take him at face value? Or are you going to ask to see the numbers? What did you do last week? Did you have previous businesses (multi sport athlete) What are your future plans? How would my money be of a value add to your business? (what will this funding accomplish for this athlete to reach the next level)? What will you do in sales next week and why? ( what can you run this season and why do you think that)?
Are we coming in at the right time, what is the time frame in the event, is it a later in life peak event or earlier in life peak event ?
What results are we using to select? Championships? Early season, time trial? Does it matter?
Are our or tools precise or just the best we have currently? Are they constantly evolving? Are they objective or subjective?
The risks of Talent ID.
Outside of plucking kids away from multi-sport development early there are some risks with TID.
What if we identify the wrong people?
What if we don’t find the right people?
How often and at what age do we identify?
The first is easy to pull out because simply when we have selected athletes- did they make the podium? *** athletes don’t worry you’re not a failure if you were selected and never reach a podium, podiums are hard to make even with all the resources in the world*** what percentage of our TID athletes make the podium or even sr teams? This is okay though, we need a bigger net to cast people and provide resources for the chance to reach the podium… remember is a budget problem.
The second is harder to spot, what if these people aren’t selected to their varsity university team because they never made OFSAA or told they weren’t good enough to ever run seriously? It’s harder to spot because often times they disappear. In our sport this is why we see so many people coming back onto the scene later in life. We are lucky in CSG sports that we have many entry points to become elite, junior, espoir, senior. But how many times have we seen an athlete come out of no where and start running elite times, and make national teams well into their 30’s? Who knows what may have happened had they been “selected” told they were good enough or had resources allocated to them?
This I think is the biggest problem with TID. But remember it’s not because your administrator or HP director or coach doesn’t like you, or doesn’t think you’re good enough TID is a bet, a resource allocation problem, you may be great in your event, but TID is looking at things like medal counts and top 8’s etc, which in turn spins the wheel of funding to NSO’s and funding to athlete support…remember it’s a budgetary issue not personal! Back to the problem…. We are missing people, we are not selecting people. Our system is set up in a fashion that if you don’t make provincial championship in grade 9 (OFSAA ) you are made to thing you’re not good enough, or your coach pays less attention to you compared to a medal winner. (extreme example I know) extrapolate that further to university- what if you don’t make your university team? Is there a group you can join that will keep you running in an attempt to make it next year? Will you get the proper guidance with a club coach? Or are you just thrown in with high schoolers? How many potential athletes are we losing that could be converting to the next level? But before you say hey Brant- if you can’t make your university squad how will you ever make a national team? I will say good point! But you’re missing the bigger picture more athletes at all levels- means increased chance of athletes converting to the next level. For example a PSO has more money when the events they hold have more numbers which in turn can then help fund more athlete development, coaching development and funding opportunities for athletes- camps, provincial teams. Then hopefully you get spill over to more competing at the national level. But wait Brant, that revenue really is a drop in the bucket, how are a couple hundred more entry fees going to really help athletes funding? Okay fair it won’t directly. But what it does is it creates a bigger participation in the sport, more competitive opportunities, a bigger base of athletes competing, and this will always lead to faster times, and more athletes rising to the top, thus in turn making us more competitive at the top levels, and in turn hopefully spinning the wheel a litter further to get more funding for the NSO support programs!
Much more narrow than this it begs the question what should coaches do with athletes at a young age?
We should keep them in as many sports as possible, keep them involved in each sport as long as possible, keep the environments fun, ensure your athletes have upside- aren’t over raced, low training relative to age- due to multi sport development, focus on all athletes not just the top athletes, understand peak height velocity, when to train what, and why some athletes may be better younger compared to others.
Track coaches here’s a bonus for you, most sports aren’t doing this stuff right!!! Swimming, soccer and other transferable talent sports aren’t doing this stuff correctly all the time, keep the youth you are working with in your group, engaged, involved and enjoying the sport, because if/ when the time comes that they are contemplating leaving their other sport, or perhaps sport in general, you could be the coach that keeps them in sporting activity and who knows, they could be the next great athlete in their event!
Overall remember that Talent ID is a great concept but due to it’s limitations is often applied incorrectly. Actively seek out those “ not selected”, those who were selected earlier but later cut, and work with anyone who wants to continue in the sport. High performance sport isn’t simply about the top athletes it has a whole ecosystem that needs to be nourished for the sport to continue having success past a single Olympic cycle.