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Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes

Talent Identification and Loyalty

July 18, 2020

Carrying on from our topic on Talent Identification for speed and power athletes.

Here is a story i will be sharing with the readers. An Australian coach friend shared this there were 2 boys who were 17 and ran 12.1 and 12.2 they had approached other coaches and they got rejected by all of them.

The coaches said the boys were too old and not fast enough so my friend coached them, within 3 years the boys ran 10.6 and they went to Australian nationals the two of them can hardly believe it they said on the day “could you have believed 3 years ago we will be here”. “Nah bro no way i never dreamt this” well after they both ran well at nationals including 21.3 and 21.6 PB in a 200. 

A coach approached them and said “Hey you guys are very talented but u will get even faster if your with me” unfortunately the boys recognised he was one of the coaches that had rejected them when they ran 12 secs at the start … the boys said you know that guy there that guy there and pointed to my friend.


The coach then went to my friend and said why did you teach your guys to be so mean. He responded they are not being mean they are being realistic. that is what you call loyalty.

And yes it was loyalty by the boys…. The coach then went to my friend and said your athletes are very arrogant. He responded You didn’t want them when they were starting you said can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
So if they are now 3 year older than before what can you teach them ? Coach said ( me ) I take anyone who wants to learn and doesn’t disrupt the group dynamics.
You only want to take the achievers. Both coaches are really using talent identification. One is doing it before the results are achieved one does it after .
My point is this I have seen athletes in the Philippines change coach for as little as 1000 Pesos where is the loyalty?. 
What baffles me is in a country of 100 Million+ People how some coaches are very eager to grab athletes from other coaches rather than develop their own talent. I mean the Philippines has  alot more people than Australia’s 25 million.

Second Point: Coaching Accountability

On a good structured program athletes should be improving their performances every year they are with a coach. Understandably the first year will be the biggest jump in performance.

But there should still be annual improvements each year while the athletes are in their prime years. Coaches who cannot improve athletes really need to take a look and re-evaluate their programs or let the athlete go to a coach that can improve them especially if the athlete has had 2-3 years of No improvement.

This is what is known as “COACHING ACCOUNTABILITY”

Which in Athletics can vary as far until the age of 25 to 30 years of age depending on the event.


Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes
Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes

Coaches seldom realize when they decide to place an athlete in an event at a young age exactly how critical this decision is.

At this time when the coach is simply thinking of picking up a few points.


An athlete’s entire career might be:

  • bolstered 
  • wrecked
  • and a pattern of self-confidence
  • or eternal self-doubting can be established.


This decision might well have determined whether an athlete will eventually experience success or failure, receive a scholarship or not, or remain in the sport. It’s a serious matter. So here are my thoughts on talent identification.

One Fundamental question to ask is

Are you sure all your athletes are in the correct event or right sport?



Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes Introduction

Talent Identification.  Before event selection, our first calling is talent identification. 

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes
Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes

Obviously, when looking for athletes for speed-oriented events, people who can run fast are the best candidates.

 But how can you tell who might be fast later in life?

 When finding athletes for the

  • Sprints
  • Hurdles
  • Jumps
  • Throws

 there are three key variables to look for.

1.The ability to produce force quickly

2.The ability to move body parts (the limbs) quickly

3.Body type

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes The Ability to Produce Force Quickly

A major clue in the search for talent in the speed and power events is the ability to produce large forces quickly. This shows the athlete’s power and elasticity. This ability can be measured subjectively by watching youngsters as they perform hopping and jumping games. e.g. standing long jump

What you are looking for is a high ratio of displacement to ground contact time. In short, you want people who can jump high or far, but seem to spend little time on the ground.

Sometimes in the triple jump, you find athletes who seemingly just peck at the ground but still jump good distances – these are athletes who will become champions when taught to use correct impulse values. Watch kids on the basketball and volleyball courts, looking not only for the person who can jump but the person who can land from a jump and quickly jump high again. The cutting and direction changes you see in sports like soccer, football, and basketball are like sideways plyometrics. Athletes who are good at these skills fit this mold as well.

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Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes From Sprint Ninja Coaching Services Website

Athletic talent identification is approached from many different angles, depending on which country you are looking at and the sport for which athletes are being recognized and recruited.

This article looks at two things

  1. The first being inborn talent identification and prediction of future success.
  2. Secondly, we will look at athletic development and the changeable aspects of young athletes throughout various stages of an athlete’s life.


How Much Athletic Ability is Inborn?

It is always popular to believe that great athletes are born and not made.

This comes from those that train hard for many years but can’t reach the heights of the champions.

That is why these types of people need a backup plan in athleticism.

The truth is that when an athlete is young, he/she is more pliable. Meaning that a child’s physiology can change many more aspects through training than is possible for an adult.

Also worth noting is that training a child is vastly more different than training an adult athlete. Specificity is less important and a child can excel in a wider range of domains than a fully mature person can.

Let’s look at this from another angle. 

Certain characteristics in physical and mental development have are genetic to a certain degree.

For instance.

  • West Africans are often great sprinters
  • East Africans are often great distance runners
  • Asians often have faster reaction times
  • Caucasians to be naturally superior swimmers.

This side of athletic talent identification is easy to work with. There are certain genetic and environmental factors surrounding entire races of people that identifying talent is a broad activity, therefore making it a lot simpler.


But what about people of the same nationality?

Athletic talent identification needs to work within the confines of specific races of people.

Without scientific testing and muscle biopsies for instance, how are talent scouts able to assess future ability in an athlete?

It has long been thought that things such as muscle fiber type distribution are genetically determined. This would make it hard to identifying potential at a young age because the athlete has not yet had time to develop.

But maybe the answer is a simple one. It may come down to what the child athlete is interested in and spends the most time on.

Several studies have shown that muscle fiber type and other physiological characteristics related to athletic performance are determined by a number of factors.

Genetics is only part of it. During childhood muscle, fiber type has been shown to actually change in response to the stimulus it gets during the younger years of childhood and adolescence. So the activities participated in during childhood may actually be a huge contributing factor to the percentage of fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers and other aspects related to athletic performance.


Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes Approaches to Athletic Talent Identification

There are many approaches to athletic talent identification. Some sports in certain countries may have a very specific, systematized approach that lasts for years. Other sports in other countries use less formal methods and may simply get as many children involved in the sport as possible and see who excels.

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes Here we will look at three common approaches…

1. Systematic, Governmental Systems:

These are methods commonly used by former Soviet countries, China and a limited number of others. These systems use methods over a long period of time such as those mentioned earlier.

2. Systematic, Non-Governmental Systems:

This is the most common form of athletic talent identification. It involves sporting bodies, companies, and individual teams looking at children in many different contexts and recruiting based on a complex number of issues such as sociology, economic factors, attitude, physical ability, technical proficiency, and more.

3. Non-Systematic Approaches:

These approaches are far less formal and don’t involve using a specific method across the board. This sort of athletic talent identification occurs in highly popular sports such as soccer, rugby, cricket, etc. where there is high enough participation in the sport already that there is no need to recruit fresh from those who don’t currently participate.

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes

Effectiveness of Methods

I am proud that currently my home country, Australia is utilizing some of the most effective athletic talent identification methods in the world. Australia’s approach is not simply the old-style method of recruiting based on current athletic ability.

Coaches and scouts in Australia use a more long-term approach that involves developing young athletes that show potential and identifying their talent through training camps, competition seasons, etc. This allows for a more organic process and provides scouts with a very long look at a young athlete’s development over time.

Contrast this with older methods used throughout the world. The classic approach was to assess youths of various ages in school sport and physical education programs and administer tests. Children that performed well in certain areas were steered towards certain sports. This did not account for a person’s interest in the sport, potential for development, attitude towards training, psychological capacity, etc. Talent identification of this type produced very modest results.

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes The Point of all This

The point I am trying to make is that talent is a complex issue involving many variables. The potential of an athlete is determined by a wide range of factors such as environment, training, developed ability, psychological predisposition to performance and many other aspects. The future success of an individual cannot be determined simply by their current level of ability.

Nor can a basic, rudimentary development process be expected to magically produce champion athletes.

I am guessing that many readers of this article will be coaches and parents and maybe even young athletes themselves. So this needs to narrow down to how athletic talent identification and the development of the athlete come together. I think that if the mindset of athletes and coaches was changed it would change the potential for many young athletes that would otherwise not be given the chance.

As I mentioned before, I was an average athlete in many sports at school. I never got the blue ribbon but I never got the wooden spoon either. Ability such as this is largely unnoticed because there are no elite, stand-out performances to grab attention.

Later I became an elite level sprinter throughout my high school years. I ran a time of 10.72s for the 100 meters at age 16. One of the primary reasons was due to training hard and knowing how to seek out information. I couldn’t afford a coach so I studied until I had the knowledge to be a coach myself. This is a mindset and therefore a contributing factor to my high school sprinting success.

Development-Based athletic talent identification methods

 Observing how a young athlete performs currently will not always provide an accurate prediction as to what they will do in the future. My advice to parents and coaches of young athletes is to invest time and energy into the young ones that prove they have the ability to be coached, not just the ones with natural ability.

A young athlete with a high tolerance for high-level training and the discipline to put in the work is most likely to reach some level of success. The reason that naturally, or genetically gifted young athletes achieve results and actually become champions is that they are nurtured.

But there is a high drop-out rate for such athletes because this psychological drive doesn’t enter into the equation. On the flip-side, one reason we don’t see as many non-gifted athletes coming through as champions is because they are ignored to a large extent. These athletes are not as often taken into athletic training camps and are less likely to gain scholarships for athletic performance.

Athletic talent identification is a complex issue

Athletic talent identification is a complex issue. For this reason, there are many variables to consider that go beyond the simple assessment of ability and performance. Through my research and my experience working with young athletes, I have discovered that a combined approach tends to prove most effective.

It pays for an athlete to show some level of natural performance, however, this is a minimal aspect in a very complex set of variables. The athletes that get into development programs should be the ones with a predisposition to elite training and performance.

This includes ambition, rate of improvement, the psychology of both performance and training and a baseline level of skill and proficiency. Quite often it is the athletes that perform moderately well in a wide range of sports that have more longevity and development potential.

Athletes that are too highly specified at an early age are the ones that peak then drop off well before they have achieved anything great in their sport. The athlete needs to have a wide range of skills and the mindset to go with it. They also need to show some level of promise. This requires them being given the chance to develop under supervision.

So I’ll leave it at that for now. Look to the systems that are working and the ones that aren’t.

Which ones are based almost exclusively on raw ability?

Which ones provide a development and monitoring programme?

Why the 10,000 Hour Rule is not accurate

Some interesting articles with points against the 10,000 Hour rule of Malcolm Gladwell.

This is in opposition to the book the Talent Code mentioned earlier in this post.

In essence, Ericsson’s theory suggests that sufficient practice in a particular skill can take anyone to a proficiency level equivalent to that of a top classical musician. To illustrate the point, Gladwell focuses on one of Ericsson’s key studies on violinists at Berlin’s Academy of Music.

10,000 hour rule 2


I summarised the key points opposing the idea

  1. There is no magic number, 10,000 hours sounds exact and too the point.
  2. Genetics plays a huge part in how fast a skill can be absorbed. The 10,000-hour rule tends to ignore this factor.
    1. e.g. Donald Thomas Bahamas High Jump had only 8 months of training to become world champion. This also probably cross-references with point (4)
    2. This has been thoroughly presented in David Epstein the Sports Gene which is the opposite view of the Talent Code.
  3. The environment also plays a huge part.
    1. Access to coaching
    2. Access to required equipment
    3. Psychological factors
      1. Enjoyment
      2. Intrinsic motivation required for athletes to maintain levels of focus to become elite.
      3. Luck
  4. International level status is attainable in a shorter amount of time if the area is less competitive.
    1. eg. For instance, Ericsson and colleagues have found that college students could reach a world-class performance for memorizing digits after only 500 to 1,000 hours of training.
  5. Athletes physical limitations on how much-dedicated practice is possible
    1. Some coaches who follow this principle make kids focus at an early age in one sport.
      1. Kids should be developing cross-motor skills, in elementary in New Zealand we spent 2 hours a day of physical activity but we played a variety of games that did not resemble any sport in particular which involves a lot of short bursts of speed and endurance factors with a variety of different movements.
      2. Kids Athletics of IAAF and Little Athletics in most countries encourages kids to try and develop a variety of skills.

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes More Points

  1. We do not yet know whether anyone with strong enough motivation and the spare time could become a virtuoso simply through deliberate practice, year in year out.
  2. It ignores the ‘Deliberate play model’
    1. The deliberate play basically states that competing in the competition takes, for example, an athletic meet in athletics. The athlete will gain a lot more experience than he would simply by focussed practice.
    2. etc. In an hour of pickup basketball, children will usually spend the vast majority of the time playing, developing motor skills through the game, while research on training environments demonstrates that athletes’ time on task varies between 25% to 54% of total training time. The benefits of feedback from experienced coaches are outweighed by the amount of time not spent actually playing or practicing! This is why I advise coaches of our youngest athletes to “Just let them play!”

 “I believe the best coaches are not afraid to let children experience multiple sports, and take time off for a family vacation or school event. Those who threaten that child’s place on the team are not furthering their sport; they are cutting the legs out from under it.”

Talent Identification for Speed and Power Athletes



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