We all know want to know the answers to the question of talent development — in fact it’s a critical job of thousands of people across the world in any industry. The motivation to write this article, some of the concepts have been stolen from The Goldmine Effect by Rasmus Ankerson and blended with other readings and experiences.
What is our talent quotient? What percentage of people capable of achieving something can we keep in our sport that end up achieving it?
How does a small village in Kenya named Iten, consistently produce the world’s best long distance runners?
How does a small country named Lithuania of only 2.9 million people, ranked 8th in basketball in the world?
How does South Korea, produce 35% of the world’s best female golfers?
I’ll be posting a 7 part series on the effects of talent goldmines around the world over the next few weeks — here is lesson 1!
Lesson 1: What You See, Is Not What You Get
The relative age effect is a phenomenon in which children born in, or close to, a critical age cut-off period may have an advantage in both athletic and academic endeavours.
This factor was highlighted by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers, where it was recognised that in terms of elite juniors aged 16–20 years old. 40 percent of the players will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September, and 10 percent between October and December.”
As you can see in the visual — there is potentially as much as 3 years physiological difference in developing adolescents who are 1 year apart.
The inefficiency grows the earlier you go, you can’t accurately assess physiology until later in life.
“We can’t tell apart maturity from ability at 9 years old.”
The relative age effect definitely evens out when they transition into fully grown athletes, so not to worry.
But what if we have missed out on a few who are now playing other sports? Or didn’t have the mental resilience at a younger age to deal with being non-selected and dropped out?
Check Out the Months of Birth from the Boomers — remembering that the cut off date in junior basketball in Australia is usually January 1st.
- David Barlow — 22nd October
- Andrew Bogut — 28th November
- Aaron Baynes — 9th December
- Joe Ingles — 2nd October
- Matthew Dellavedova — 3rd August
I won’t keep going but only 1 athlete, Mitch Creek is born in the first 6 months of the year.
So the system does even itself out, as these athletes had to adapt other skills before the physiologically caught up.
What about the ones that didn’t? What if the inefficiencies of the system shut the door behind thousands along the way who aren’t in the sport?
What to do about it?
1. Don’t Make Your Gate Too Narrow
Talent comes in all shapes and sizes. Facebook hired 120 new IT staff through a puzzle master problem they posted, 20% of them were college drop outs.
Delay early selection and specialisation: pick teams but not on merit until 13–15 years old that is a perfect world to live in. For every Tiger Woods there are 999 failures who quit.
Early specialisation is not only unnecessary but harmful.
View your talent production model as a revolving door — there’s never a guarantee and there’s always a way back in.
If you CAN’T DO THAT: provide a world where all the teams get to practice in a massed environment being taught by the best coach. Often the players who will play for you senior team are in the third or fourth team.
If you CAN’T DO THAT: have a program for the kids who were non-selected, find a way to keep them involved because they are the ones who often have more potential to make it later.
2. Understand the Focus of the Age You’re Coaching
The aim of the youth athlete team is not win U9 championship, it is to develop the players & team to be the best they can be while having a vision for the end in mind.
The Canadian LTAD model which is below provides a great framework for the main focus of the age group you are coaching.
3. Educate the Athletes & Parents
If you had great success at 12 or 13 years of age, the odds could now be against you for long term. Not in a negative way, but to throw the challenge out there that others will catch up.
Do the parents understand the developmental orientation of the program? They are seeing your athletes a lot more than you, so your impact on them is important.
Belgian Soccer Youth Model
Canadian Long Term Athlete Development Model
Norway’s Youth Sport Model