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  • Jack Fleming

The Goldmine Effect Part 4: Secrets of Youth Talent Development

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

If you haven't read the previous posts, here they are.

Lesson 4 - Playing Up

The best talent development hotbeds in the world, pushed their best athletes beyond the usual realms of age group to make sure they were challenged to constantly improve and not settle for where they are.

How did Michael Jordan get better? By getting his ass kicked by his older brothers every day in the backyard.

In Kenya, the best long distance running country in the world, the Kalenjin tribes all rise at 5:30am and run together. From the youngest kid, he runs with the adult training for the Olympics. More than 70% of all Kenya's gold medals at international championships have been brought home by Kalenjin athletes.

Daniel Coyle talks about in The Talent Code, "the trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle."

The Challenge Point Hypothesis

Case Study 1 - Australia's Golden Generation of Soccer Players

In 2019, the PFA brought out a report called the Golden Generation Report finding the six self-evident truths that drove the unprecedented success of Australian soccer players in the world’s most competitive sporting pursuit.

At a certain point, superior junior players become too talented for their own age group. Principle 6 in the Golden Generation Report was the Pathway: Playing Up.

It was found that in the Golden Generation most, if not all of them played up an age group at their local club or were playing senior football by 16. This was compared to the current generation where the trend may be to move up the linear pathway, or playing for several youth clubs moving for what's seen as the winning formula club.

This takes away the "relative age effect' which was discussed in part 1, where with younger players it's difficult to tell apart maturity from ability - as now they have a relative challenge point at a young age.

Case Study 2 - 1998/99 Australian Institute of Sport Women

Australia's elite junior women were fortunate to play in the top senior competition, the WNBL and get challenged by full grown women every single week.

These athletes, coached by Phil Brown had the balance of a daily high performance training environment against each other combined with the toughest competition every weekend. A perfect mix for talent development.

This was nonetheless a special group, which went onto to win the WNBL championship an amazing feat as 16 and 17 year olds. Here are some of the names that were on this team.

Kristen Veal - youngest ever player drafted in the WNBA

Lauren Jackson - 4x WNBL MVPs and 3x WNBA MVPs

Belinda Snell - 3x WNBL champion, 1x WNBA champion, 1x Euroleague champion

Suzy Batkovic - 6x WNBL MVP

Penny Taylor - 3x WNBA champion & all star

What can we do as coaches and clubs?

1. Push your best kids to play in the next age group if they are dominating, or at least train with them where opportunities arise.

2. Challenge your team to go and play a team from your club in an older age group.

Who's to say the U12 boys couldn't play against the U14 girls? Or the U12 (2) girls couldn't scrimmage the u14(4) girls?

3. Provide senior opportunities for your best juniors.

To provide the best environment for everybody, they need to be challenged - if you have any better ideas for how to do that please share! If you enjoyed this article and it resonated with you please like, retweet etc!

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