Talent is never enough – Factors that influence talent development (Julieanne McAuliffe)

“Talent is never enough. With a few exceptions, the best players are those that are the hardest workers”
(Magic Johnson).

If talent is never enough then why is there such an emphasis on it in sport? Sport organisations worldwide dedicate a lot of time, effort and money to talent identification and elite development programmes. The main goal of which is to identify and produce elite athletes that will achieve at the highest level within their sport. However, often those that are targeted as future stars do not achieve what is expected of them.  In other words, why don’t all those considered talented achieve success?  Maybe we need to first clarify how we view talent- is it a gift that an athlete possesses or is it the end-product after a period of mastery?  If we consider talent to be the end-product, then at the stage of entering an elite development programme athletes are gifted with the potential to become talented.  Therefore, it is giftedness that is never enough and there needs to be various other factors that interact during the development process for an athlete to become talented.

What are the other factors that influence the development process? If we consider that after the identification stage the physical attributes of athletes are more or less matched, then it is the psychological discriminators that become crucial. Research focusing on the opinions of coaches has suggested that athletes need to be determined, focused and possess a good work ethic. They need to be intelligent not only in terms of their sport, for example having a heightened game awareness, but also being socially competent so they can adapt in situations and emotionally competent so they can regulate their emotions. They must also be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and be aware of others. Finally, they must be resilient, in other words they must be confident and be able to cope with setbacks and pressure.

All these factors are influenced by environmental factors such as significant others that provide social support and chance. Chance can play a vital role in the development of an athlete. From the beginning, chance is involved in the genetics or socioeconomic background that allows the player to reach a level where they may be considered gifted. Once engaged in the process, chance may take the form of selection or injury. Therefore, there can be challenges that athletes need to face during the elite development process. Athletes may struggle with the physical demands of training at a higher level. In addition, they may find it difficult to adjust to the playing/competition schedule, which may be more intense than what they had previously experienced.  Athletes may also feel they need to work hard to prove their value to the team or coaches and subsequently feel pressure to perform. The strain of developing new relationships with peers and coaches can be difficult for some athletes and can have a negative impact on their development.

So while giftedness may not be enough for an athlete to be successful, it may be the psychological factors mentioned above, in addition to the environmental factors that are key determinants in whether giftedness turns into talent. These are only some of the factors that may influence talent development and I hope to establish further clarity in this area as part of my research in UL.

Julieanne McAuliffe is a postgraduate student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. She can be contacted at julieanne.mcauliffe@ul.ie or on twitter @McAuliffeJA

Tagged with: