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The Great British Medalists Project: A Review of Current Knowledge on the Development of the World's Best Sporting Talent

Authors:

Abstract

The literature base regarding the development of sporting talent is extensive, and includes empirical articles, reviews, position papers, academic books, governing body documents, popular books, unpublished theses and anecdotal evidence, and contains numerous models of talent development. With such a varied body of work, the task for researchers, practitioners and policy makers of generating a clear understanding of what is known and what is thought to be true regarding the development of sporting talent is particularly challenging. Drawing on a wide array of expertise, we address this challenge by avoiding adherence to any specific model or area and by providing a reasoned review across three key overarching topics: (a) the performer; (b) the environment; and (c) practice and training. Within each topic sub-section, we review and calibrate evidence by performance level of the samples. We then conclude each sub-section with a brief summary, a rating of the quality of evidence, a recommendation for practice and suggestions for future research. These serve to highlight both our current level of understanding and our level of confidence in providing practice recommendations, but also point to a need for future studies that could offer evidence regarding the complex interactions that almost certainly exist across domains.
REVIEW ARTICLE
The Great British Medalists Project: A Review of Current
Knowledge on the Development of the World’s Best Sporting
Talent
Tim Rees
1
Lew Hardy
2
Arne Gu
¨llich
3
Bruce Abernethy
4
Jean Co
ˆte
´
5
Tim Woodman
2
Hugh Montgomery
6
Stewart Laing
7
Chelsea Warr
7
Published online: 3 February 2016
The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract The literature base regarding the development of
sporting talent is extensive, and includes empirical articles,
reviews, position papers, academic books, governing body
documents, popular books, unpublished theses and anecdotal
evidence, and contains numerous models of talent develop-
ment. With such a varied body of work, the task for
researchers, practitioners and policy makers of generating a
clear understanding of what is known and what is thought to
be true regarding the development of sporting talent is par-
ticularly challenging. Drawing on a wide array of expertise,
we address this challenge by avoiding adherence to any
specific model or area and by providing a reasoned review
across three key overarching topics: (a) the performer; (b) the
environment; and (c) practice and training. Within each topic
sub-section, we review and calibrate evidence by
performance level of the samples. We then conclude each
sub-section with a brief summary, a rating of the quality of
evidence, a recommendation for practice and suggestions for
future research. These serve to highlight both our current level
of understanding and our level of confidence in providing
practice recommendations, but also point to a need for future
studies that could offer evidence regarding the complex
interactions that almost certainly exist across domains.
Key Points
We identify what is known and what is thought likely
to be true in relation to understanding the development
of the world’s best sporting talent, make recommenda-
tions for policy makers and practitioners to act on, and
suggest fruitful avenues for future research.
Examining topics related to the performer, the
environment, and practice and training, our analysis
highlights variation in the quality of evidence
relevant to the development of the world’s best
sporting talent, such that the strength of evidence in
some topics (e.g. anthropometric and physiological
factors) is higher than in others (e.g. birthdate).
We provide an authoritative, balanced,
comprehensive, fully referenced and critical review
of the literature, which should serve as a key point of
reference (a) for researchers in talent identification
and development in sport, as well as a guide to future
research; and (b) for practitioners and policy makers
in sport seeking an overarching, evidence-based
understanding of the current state of knowledge in
the area, as well as a guide for translating that
knowledge into action.
&Tim Rees
trees@bournemouth.ac.uk
1
Department of Sport and Physical Activity, Faculty of
Management, Bournemouth University, Dorset House, Talbot
Campus, Fern Barrow, Poole BH12 5BB, UK
2
Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Bangor University,
George Building, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2PZ, UK
3
Department of Sport Science, University of Kaiserslautern,
Erwin Schro
¨dinger Street, 67663 Kaiserslautern, Germany
4
School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, Faculty
of Health and Behavioral Sciences, The University of
Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
5
School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, SKHS Building 28
Division Street, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N,
Canada
6
School of Life and Medical Sciences, University College
London, Rockefeller Building, 20, University Street, London
WC1E 6DE, UK
7
UK Sport, 21 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3HF, UK
123
Sports Med (2016) 46:1041–1058
DOI 10.1007/s40279-016-0476-2
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
1 Introduction
With the competition for medals at Olympics and World
Championships intensifying, there is greater investment
than ever in sporting systems and structures to identify
and develop exceptionally talented athletes. The Aus-
tralian Institute of Sport has been credited with boosting
Australia’s medal haul from five medals in the 1976
Montreal Olympics to 60 medals in the 2000 Sydney
Olympics. Team Great Britain (GB)’s fourth position in
the 2008 Beijing Olympics medals table was supported
by a markedly increased investment (£235M), and this
funding continued to support Team GB’s climb to third
position in the 2012 London Olympics (£261M). When
organizations such as UK Sport (the UK’s high perfor-
mance sports agency) commit a further £355M of public
funds to the Rio 2016 Olympic cycle, it becomes
increasingly necessary to be able to draw on an evi-
dence-based understanding of the identification and
development of the world’s best sporting talent to
maintain the success that is expected with this expendi-
ture. This is the context for the present review, which
seeks to identify what is known and what is thought
likely to be true in relation to understanding the devel-
opment of the world’s best sporting talent.
In September 2009, UK Sport invited all UK aca-
demic institutions to submit tenders to (a) ‘‘research and
understand elements of identification and development,
to ultimately inform the prediction of future elite
sporting talent’’; and (b) ‘‘conclude unique recommen-
dations from the research that highlight key accelerants
and retardants in the pathway development of elite
performers’’. As part of the subsequent work, the
research team (led by the two first authors) drew
together a panel of international research experts, elite
athletes, coaches from the GB World Class Programme
and expertise from UK Sport’s Research and Innova-
tion, and Athlete Development disciplines, and UK
Sport’s Senior Management Team. An initial series of
meetings, presentations and workshops was held
between April 2010 and January 2011. The topics
highlighted and conclusions drawn from these sessions
guided the development of a review/position statement
with regard to current understanding of the performance
and development of ‘super-elite athletes’. This
review/position statement was used both in strategic
planning for Rio 2016 (in March 2013) and to inform a
separate research study which further explored the
development of super-elite athletes. This process pro-
vided the initial guide for the present article, which was
subsequently further revised and up-dated through 2015.
Of particular note was the first meeting of the
collaborative team at UK Sport’s headquarters in
Loughborough, UK in June 2010. At this meeting,
contributors were asked to present on their key
topic(s) of expertise and calibrate evidence in relation
to non-elite, junior elite, elite and super-elite levels of
performance.
There is a voluminous literature devoted to under-
standing the development of sporting talent. In addition to
numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, there are various
academic books [14], reviews/position papers [516],
governing body documents (e.g. from the UK, the USA
and Australia [1725]), popular books [2632], specific
models of talent development [3345] and other related
works of note [4655]. With so much information and
opinion across many sub-disciplines of the sports sci-
ences, so many models and frameworks, so many levels
of performer, such varied levels of empirical knowledge
and much apparent truth, popular wisdom and contro-
versy, the task of generating a clear understanding of the
development of the world’s best sporting talent was
challenging.
In order to provide recommendations for best practice
in which readers could have confidence, we believed it
was important to move beyond a purely narrative
description of research evidence to rate the quality of
evidence available. Thus, we provide additional infor-
mation, by focusing on three key aspects:
(a) Categorization of the performance level of the study
samples as non-elite (juniors or seniors competing
below national level), junior elite (junior national to
junior international level), elite (senior international
level) or super-elite (Gold medalists at Olympics or
World Championships);
1
(b) Employing a modification to the GRADE (Grading of
Recommendations Assessment, Development and
Evaluation) system [56] to rate the quality of
evidence (based on study design, consistency of
evidence and directness of evidence)—indicating the
1
Studies of genuinely world-class (i.e. super-elite) athletes are
under-represented in sport. At the same time, definitions of ‘elite’
athletes in research vary widely, from regional juniors (non-elite
athletes, according to our definitions) through to Olympic gold medal
winners (super-elite athletes). As well as attempting to clarify these
distinctions, our reasoning for differentiating super-elite from merely
elite athletes was the appreciation that there may be subtle yet
fundamental differences between athletes who reach international
level and those who achieve Gold at Olympic or world level. Such
differences would be of great importance and relevance to sporting
organizations, tasked with the role of converting elite performers into
world’s best.
1042 T. Rees et al.
123
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extent to which we can be confident that an estimate
of effect is correct;
2,3
and
(c) Offering a recommendation (as noted in the GRADE
[57] guidelines) to policy makers and/or practitioners
on whether to draw on the evidence and use it in
practice.
We should stress that a strong body of evidence does not
necessarily in itself lead to a strong recommendation for
practice. For example, one may make confident recom-
mendations when the quality of evidence is high, but the
potential benefits of applying knowledge may only lead to
modest practical gains. Conversely, one may be less con-
fident in making recommendations because the quality of
evidence is low or moderate, yet the potential benefits may
be compelling.
2 The Performer
2.1 Birthdate
Athletic success may be influenced by birthdate. The rel-
ative age effect (RAE) refers to a biased distribution of
elite athletes’ birthdates, with an over-representation of
those born at the beginning of any given competitive year
(e.g. September in most Western societies) and an under-
representation of those born at the end (e.g. August). A
meta-analysis [58] of studies from 1984 to 2007, examin-
ing non-elite-, junior elite- and elite-level athletes showed
robust support for the RAE across ice hockey, soccer,
baseball, basketball and volleyball. More recent research
with junior elite samples [5961] has provided additional
evidence for this RAE with ice hockey, handball and
soccer.
Although the above results appear convincing, there is
evidence that RAEs may be inconsistent. In some elite
samples [6265], RAEs have been demonstrated in ice
hockey and baseball, but not in American Football,
basketball, soccer, golf, handball, taekwondo, volleyball
and various other unspecified Olympic sports. Elite-level
ice hockey players [66] have demonstrated moderate evi-
dence for RAEs in ‘average’ players, but a reversal of the
effect in the ‘most’ elite players (‘All Star’ and Olym-
pians), with relatively younger players enjoying longer
careers. There is also evidence [67] at junior elite level that
RAEs may be more prominent in boys than in girls, as well
as evidence that younger athletes figure more prominently
in earlier rounds of drafting into US National Hockey
teams, and some elite-level data [68] demonstrating a
greater proportion of relatively younger players at later
stages of careers.
Research [69,70] with non-elite- and elite-level samples
has cautioned against the normal comparison of observed
birthdates with an expected distribution of birthdates,
because the distribution of birthdates within sports may be
uneven due to younger athletes not choosing a particular
sport—a form of ‘self-restriction’—and younger athletes
being more likely to drop out. For example, when the
population of soccer players originally registered in the
sport was taken as the comparison group, the RAE disap-
peared [70].
With moderate study design, low consistency and
moderate direct evidence (up to elite level), the quality of
the evidence that being relatively older is an advantage
with regard to the development of super-elite performance
in sport is moderate to low. The evidence suggests that any
advantage associated with being born in the first two
quarters of the year may disappear by the time athletes
reach elite level. We therefore recommend that practition-
ers do not make use of RAEs for talent selection [71]or
development purposes, but rather policy makers and
practitioners focus on structuring the environment to limit
the negative effect of relative age [72,73]. More research is
needed to better understand the extent to which RAE-re-
lated effects occur (a) at initial involvement in a sport
(‘self-selection’), (b) after prolonged involvement in
competitions (success-related selection), or (c) on selection
to an athlete support programme (explicit selection).
Researchers should also carefully consider the most
appropriate comparator groups. Further, it would be helpful
to examine the extent to which the competitive level and
range of sports available throughout development is
responsible for the RAE—that is, with more players and
fewer available sports are RAEs more pronounced?
2.2 Genetics
It would appear no longer a case of whether there is a
genetic component to sporting performance, but rather
which genetic profiles make the greatest contribution [74].
There is evidence at non-elite level [7579] that genetic
2
The GRADE system may be used for rating quality of evidence in
reviews and guidelines and grading strength of recommendations. The
system classifies the quality of evidence into one of four levels: high,
moderate, low and very low. Because randomized controlled trials
(regarded as the highest rating within the GRADE system) over
multiple years are rarely possible in elite sport, we re-calibrated the
quality and strength of research evidence by effectively inflating
GRADE quality ratings by one point.
3
Our reviews were based on non-exhaustive literature reviews (using
Web of Science and Google Scholar in combination with UK Sport’s
archives, and the authors’ personal archives). Indeed, many unpub-
lished reports that we considered could not have been considered in a
systematic review. Thus, the conclusions are our criterion-based
judgments, which we believe aligns with Sports Medicine’s mission
to provide an authoritative, balanced, comprehensive, fully referenced
and critical review of the literature.
The Great British Medalists Project 1043
123
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factors explain 20–80 % of the variance in a host of
measures: explosive strength, speed of limb movement,
running speed, reaction time, flexibility, balance, bone
mineral density, lean muscle mass, eccentric arm flexor
strength, concentric arm flexor strength, arm cross-sec-
tional area, change in maximum voluntary force, isometric
strength and VO
2
max. Specific gene variants appear to
influence participation in physical activity [80]—the
GENEATHLETE project claims to have identified a phe-
notype for athletic status by comparing athletic samples
with sedentary people [81,82]. Indeed, 66 % of the vari-
ance in non-elite ‘athlete status’ may be explained by
genetic factors [83].
A significant heritable component has been identified
with non-elite samples in agility, sprinting, jumping,
throwing, kinematics and reaction time [76,8486], and
also in personality/character [87]. Specific gene variants
may influence the determination of endurance/aerobic and
muscle strength/anaerobic performance [8891]. In par-
ticular, substantial attention has been paid to the relation-
ship of ACTN3 (actinin alpha 3) and VDR (vitamin D
receptor) gene variants with strength/power. Within the
ACE (angiotensin I-converting enzyme) gene, the absence
(deletion, D allele) rather than presence (insertion, I allele)
of 287 base pairs is associated with higher circulating ACE
activity [92,93]. The I allele is generally associated with
fatigue resistance and endurance performance, and the D
allele with power/strength/sprint phenotypes [94,95]. The I
allele is associated with training-related improvements in
loaded repetitive biceps performance [96], its frequency is
increased among elite-level high altitude mountain clim-
bers [96] when compared with controls, and it is associated
with success in summiting even among non-elite samples
[97,98]. I allele frequency rises with distance run in elite-
level runners [99]. Conversely, the D allele is associated
with sprint/power performance in elite short-distance
swimming [100102].
Genetics are also related to susceptibility to injury [103].
The E4 variant of the apolipoprotein E epsilon4 (ApoE4)
may be associated with increased severity of chronic neu-
rological deficits in high-exposure non-elite boxers [104],
while genetic variation within the collagen type 5 alpha 1
(COL5A1) gene has been associated with Achilles tendon
[105] and anterior cruciate ligament injury [106] in non-
elite athletes when compared with non-injured controls.
The field of epigenetics [107110] offers evidence of
(heritable but reversible) changes in gene expression,
which do not involve a change in the DNA sequence (i.e.
gene expression may result from environmental influ-
ences). The fact, for example, that mothers’ activity levels
might influence gene expression (across generations) could
likely have important implications for the emergence of
sporting talent. Work on (functional) genomics [111113]
has demonstrated compelling evidence of changes in gene
expression relating to functional adaptation in response to
muscle activity in endurance training.
With high study designs, moderate consistency and
moderate direct evidence (up to elite level), the quality of
the evidence that genetics could make an important con-
tribution to talent selection and development in sport is at
least moderate. Indeed, although rare combinations of gene
variants are likely to act in concert to yield propensity to
super-elite athlete status [114], and elite performance
cannot necessarily be predicted well from genetic factors,
genetic factors may influence the sport in which athletes
are most likely to successfully compete [115]. Genetic
selection methodologies may, however, come with nega-
tive reputational, personal, ethical and societal impacts. We
therefore recommend that policy makers and practitioners
consider the possibility of using genetic profiling to help
athletes make more informed and appropriate decisions
about sport type and discipline during their development
years. We may only be able to evaluate the true benefits of
genetic testing when geneticists and sports scientists col-
laborate in large prospective cohort studies that empirically
determine the utility of genetic analyses in predicting
future performance. The potential impact of genetics could
be great, and thus further research in this area is warranted,
in particular in relation to specific performance genes,
training/learning genes and genes underpinning injury
proneness.
2.3 Anthropometric and Physiological Factors
There is a long history of anthropometric studies of
Olympic athletes, dating back to documenting the physique
of track and field athletes at the 1960 Rome Olympics
[116]. As a result, both anthropometric and physiological
factors have now been identified across a number of sports
at all levels of performance: non-elite [117120], junior
elite [121128], elite [129131] and super-elite [132].
Among the many variables examined are: height, weight
and (lean) body mass; bone mineral content and density;
limb length and circumference; amount of adipose tissue;
jumping and sprinting ability; strength; and VO
2
max. This
research has examined a wide range of sports, including:
Australian Rules football, basketball, canoe polo, field
hockey, football, handball, netball, rowing, rugby league
and tennis. Clearly, aerobic capacity, anaerobic endurance
and anaerobic power [133] are important for optimal sport
performance, with a large proportion of training focused on
these qualities, and with specific protocols for physiologi-
cal assessments likely to be different across different sports
[134,135].
Although morphology-related factors may be involved
in directing some athletes to specific sports [136]—e.g.
1044 T. Rees et al.
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gymnasts and divers are typically the smallest and lightest
of all athletes; weightlifters and powerlifters have a high
ratio of sitting height to stature caused by shorter than
average upper and lower limb lengths—some argue [11]
that anthropometric research has been over-interpreted,
leading to the questionable practice of anthropmetric pro-
filing to identify athletes for early selection and special-
ization in a sport. Factors such as individual variability in
growth, the unstable nature of anthropometric—as well as
physiological—measures throughout adolescence and the
limited predictability of performance potentially limit the
utility of anthropometric and physiological measures for
talent identification purposes. Biological maturation should
thus be accounted for in talent identification [123,137].
Hormonal changes during puberty result in physical and
physiological changes, which are important for sporting
performance. A review [138] across many sports with non-
elite and junior elite data concluded that significant chan-
ges during puberty make the prediction of adult perfor-
mance from adolescent data challenging.
With high study design, high consistency and high direct
relevance (up to super-elite level), the quality of the evi-
dence that anthropometric and physiological factors con-
tribute to the development of super-elite performance in
sport is high. However, changes during puberty make the
prediction of adult performance from adolescent data
unreliable. We therefore recommend that practitioners
make use of physiological testing for purposes of informing
the training process, and make use of anthropometric
profiling and physiological tests for both talent selection
and development purposes, but policy makers and practi-
tioners should ensure that such action is accompanied by
appropriate procedures (considering biological maturation)
to ‘re-capture’ lost/missed late maturers. The most obvious
issue for talent identification researchers in sport to solve is
the problem of predicting adult performance from adoles-
cent anthropometric and physiological data. Solving this
conundrum could have an enormous impact on talent
identification procedures.
2.4 Psychological Skills and Motivational
Orientations
As long ago as 1977, Mahoney and Avener [139] attempted
to identify some of the psychological characteristics of elite
gymnasts. There is now evidence at non-elite [140146],
junior elite [147149], elite [23,139,150156] and super-
elite [151,157164] level that more successful athletes
display higher levels of motivation, higher levels of con-
fidence and perceived control, higher levels of mental
toughness and resilience, better ability to cope with
adversity, greater resistance to ‘choking’ (i.e. performing
worse than expected [165,166]) in high-pressure situa-
tions, and command a wide range of mental skills (e.g.
goal-setting, anxiety control, imagery, self-talk and deci-
sion-making).
Evidence at elite [23,153] and super-elite [157,161,
163,164] level suggests that athletes display a strong task
orientation to base their perceptions of competence on
personal improvements, but that at non-elite [167], junior
elite [168], elite [169] and super-elite [163,170] level
athletes also display a strong ego orientation to formulate
perceptions of competence by comparing their own ability
with that of others. There is also evidence that non-elite-
[171,172] and elite- [173] level athletes can use anxiety to
enhance their performance. In particular, athletes have
been noted to produce both their best and their worst per-
formances when anxious [172]. This may be because
anxiety is associated with higher levels of effort [171,174],
which could lead to higher levels of performance, provided
the performer does not lapse into attempting to consciously
control each specific movement or action [166,175,176].
Higher performing athletes also interpret their anxiety
symptoms as being more facilitative to their performance
than lower performing athletes [177,178].
There is evidence at non-elite and elite level [179181]
that successful athletes display self-determined forms of
motivation, and that the greater the levels of this form of
motivation, the lower the risk of burnout. However, there is
also evidence that elite athletes have higher levels of
extrinsic motivation and lower levels of intrinsic motiva-
tion than less accomplished athletes [182,183]. More
recent research [184] has found that obsessive (more con-
trolling) passion in non-elite athletes is a stronger predictor
of deliberate practice (see Sect. 4.1), and thus sports per-
formance, than harmonious (more self-determined)
passion.
With moderate study design, high consistency and high
direct relevance (up to super-elite level), the quality of the
evidence that psychological factors are an important con-
tributor to the development of super-elite performance in
sport is high to moderate, although the evidence is more
widespread across some psychological characteristics than
others. We therefore recommend that practitioners make
use of psychological profiling for talent development pur-
poses. Key questions for future research include examining
the causes of exceptional levels of motivation, resilience
and mental toughness, including assessing whether and
how psychological skills at junior level influence long-term
adult elite/super-elite performance. How do exceptional
performers use their anxiety in a positive way? How do the
world’s best performers maintain focus and concentration,
while avoiding lapses into conscious control? How can
these skills be trained?
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2.5 Personality Traits
There is evidence at non-elite [185188], elite [23,189]
and super-elite [157,161,164] level that more successful
athletes display greater conscientiousness, dispositional
optimism and hope than less successful athletes. There is
also evidence at non-elite [190192], elite [23,164] and
super-elite level [161] that athletes display adaptive per-
fectionism—a tendency to maintain perspective on per-
formances while striving to achieve exceptional standards.
This contrasts with the many negative outcomes (e.g.
burnout, preoccupation with mistakes and self-doubts)
associated with (maladaptive) perfectionism [193]. There is
evidence at non-elite level [194198] for the influence of
narcissism on performance. Narcissists have an inherent
(albeit unrealistic) belief in their ability [199], but this self-
belief may well facilitate very high levels of performance
under pressure [198].
With moderate study design, moderate to low consis-
tency (generally consistent, though relatively infrequent)
and high direct relevance (including super-elite level), the
quality of the evidence that personality is an important
contributor to the development of super-elite performance
in sport is moderate. Furthermore, the risks associated with
practitioners acting on the available evidence for talent
development purposes seem to be only modest, although
the same cannot be said with regard to using it for talent
selection purposes. We therefore recommend that practi-
tioners might make use of personality profiling for talent
development but not talent selection purposes. Future
research could focus on whether there are other important
(combinations of) personality characteristics that are nec-
essary for the development of a strong competitive per-
sonality and how these characteristics might be best
developed.
3 The Environment
3.1 Birthplace
There is evidence across junior elite [59,200,201] and
elite levels [64,65,202204] that the size of the city where
an athlete spends his/her developmental years can affect
the likelihood of attaining elite-level performance. Small-
to medium-sized communities (circa 30,000–1,000,000)
appear to offer the greatest opportunities for success,
although there is wide variation (not least because a med-
ium-sized city in one country may be considered small or
large in another), and in UK-based data [63], areas with
populations of 10,000 and 29,999 are more likely to pro-
duce Olympic athletes, with areas between 500,000 and
999,999 being disadvantaged. A birthplace effect analysis
[205] with elite and super-elite athletes from the UK World
Class Programme (WCP) revealed the following: Com-
pared to the general UK population, WCP athletes were 2.1
times more likely to be born in a medium-sized town
(50,000–99,999 residents), 10.5 times more likely to attend
a primary school in a very small village (\1999 residents)
and 3.0 times more likely to attend secondary school in a
very small village (\1999 residents). Birthplace itself may
not be as critical as place of early development. Indeed,
birthplace effects may be buffered by broader psycholog-
ical, social, structural and cultural mechanisms [63,200,
204,206]. Nevertheless, birthplace effects provide support
for the notion that environments vary in their capacity to
develop sporting talent and that ‘talent hotspots’ may be a
reality.
With moderate study design, high consistency and high
direct relevance (up to super-elite level), the quality of the
evidence that birthplace offers an advantage with regard to
the development of super-elite performance in sport is high
to moderate. We therefore recommend that policy makers
and practitioners at least take consideration of birthplace
when designing talent search initiatives as well as profiling
athletes during talent selection and development. Under-
standing more about the physical and social environment,
organisation of resources and the number of participants
competing for available places in sports are key areas for
research—i.e. understanding more about the environments
and neighbourhoods that potential sporting talents are
exposed to, and less about birthplace population size.
3.2 Support from Parents, Family, Siblings
and Coaches
The importance of family and siblings during athletes’
developmental years has been highlighted [39]. Evidence
from non-elite [207216], junior elite [148,217219], elite
[23,220222] and super-elite [158160] athletes attests to
the influence of social groups, social support and support
networks [223] (including family, coaches, other athletes/
peers and support staff). In addition to their key role in the
provision of expert coaching and training, coaches can help
to enhance the development of psychological skills and
mental toughness in athletes during their developmental
years [50,158,161,224,225]. Non-elite data [226,227]
suggest that the supportiveness and feedback effectiveness
of coaches is dependent on a unique fit (and common
identity) between the characteristics of the coach and the
personality of the athlete.
With moderate study design, moderate consistency and
high direct relevance (up to super-elite level), the quality of
the evidence that support plays a role in the development of
super-elite performance in sport is at least moderate. We
therefore recommend that policy makers and practitioners
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heed the important influence of the support process during
talent development. However, it is worthy of note that the
nuances of providing appropriate support appear to be
much more complex than most lay people realize. There is
still a relative lack of knowledge with regard to the influ-
ence of early family experiences, and we need to know
more about the role of the family (parents, siblings, inter-
relations) more generally with respect to who reaches
super-elite level in sport.
3.3 Athlete Support Programmes
Evidence from 19 European countries [228] suggests that
most talent identification systems in sport use current
junior performance and/or early competitive success as the
main criterion for selection to a development programme.
Although most elite and super-elite athletes have been
involved in athlete support programmes at some stage [20,
229], there is evidence across all performance levels [13,
20,228234] that junior success does not significantly
predict long-term senior success. A 7-year longitudinal
study of 4686 German athletes (from athletics, cycling,
field hockey, rowing, table tennis, weight lifting and
wrestling) across all performance levels [229] and a
12-year longitudinal study involving 1420 members of 13
soccer academies [235] revealed: (a) considerable annual
turnover of athletes within each squad; (b) the younger the
first recruitment to a support programme, the younger the
exit from the programme; and (c) the higher the attained
level within an athlete support programme and the higher
the level of senior success, the later the age of first
recruitment. Various other studies have highlighted super-
elite performers being recruited to support programmes at
significantly later ages than their elite counterparts [228,
229,236,237]. Interestingly, UK data [13] suggest that
athletes selected via ‘Talent Transfer’ programmes at ages
16–25 years can reach the performance of their elite peers
within 1 year. Relatedly, data from German elite and
super-elite athletes at the Summer 2004 and Winter 2006
Olympic Games [238] and from Dutch non-elite and elite
athletes [239] reveal no differences in medal success
between athletes who attended ‘‘elite sport schools’’ and
those who did not, while the latter attained higher academic
achievements.
With moderate study design, moderate to low consis-
tency (i.e. consistent but infrequent), and high direct rele-
vance (up to super-elite level), the quality of the evidence
regarding early athlete support programmes’ contribution
to the development of super-elite performance in sport is
moderate. The trajectory to super-elite status appears dis-
tinctly non-linear [240], involving repeated selection and
de-selection, rather than linear progression within athlete
support programmes [235]. We therefore recommend that
policy makers and practitioners appreciate that junior
success does not contribute significantly to predicting long-
term senior success, that early athlete support programmes
are not the sole route to the development of talent, that
support programmes be open for access at all age ranges,
and thus that de-selected athletes be monitored for potential
return. Empirical evaluations of the efficacy of athlete
support programmes would appear a priority for future
research, with the potential to encourage a major re-think
of some of the components of the current support pro-
gramme strategy. At a more theoretical level, why do some
apparently ‘talented’, highly motivated athletes fail to
progress at key transition points (especially from junior
elite to elite level)? Do sport systems typically require the
talented athlete to ‘fit in’ more than they adapt to allow the
athlete to thrive toward excellence?
4 Practice and Training
4.1 Volume of Sport-Specific Practice and Training
Despite wide variation across sports, most junior elite, elite
and super-elite athletes have accumulated enormous vol-
umes of organized practice and training [149,230,241
260]. Extensive sport-specific deliberate practice (DP) is
thus a pre-requisite to world-class performance in sports
with a large participant base.
A widely held view, based on seminal work in chess
[261] and music [262], is that 10 years and 10,000 h of DP
are necessary and sufficient to reach expert level [27,31].
Indeed, many elite and super-elite athletes have been
practicing and training for ten years or longer [230,241,
243245,248]. In discussing his DP framework, however,
Ericsson [263] has recently emphasized he did not intend
for his original (i.e. 1993 [262]) conclusions to constitute a
10,000 h ‘rule’. In fact, there is considerable variation
within and across sports at elite and super-elite level [10,
23,264], with some data suggesting an average time from
novice to senior national representation of just 7.5 years,
and even Olympic level in just 14 months [265]. Evidence
at super-elite level suggests as few as 4400 h may lead to
Olympic Gold in field hockey [236], and 4500 h to repre-
senting the German national soccer team [266], with just
4000 h sufficient to reach elite and super-elite levels in
basketball, field hockey and netball [241]. Interestingly,
organized practice/training has been shown at junior elite
[267] and super-elite level [266] to comprise considerable
non-DP activity (e.g. play).
DP theory also asserts [262] that the more DP accu-
mulated, the higher the performance attained. There is
evidence that more successful athletes have averaged larger
amounts of organized sport-specific practice/training.
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These observations are based on comparisons of non-elite
athletes with: junior elite athletes in cricket and soccer
[246,259,260]; elite athletes in basketball, cricket, field
hockey, handball, soccer, swimming, triathlon and wres-
tling [243,248,250,255,260]; and super-elite athletes in
basketball, darts, field hockey and netball [241,245], and
also on comparisons of adolescent elite with super-elite
rhythmic gymnasts [254]. Additionally, elite Australian
Rules footballers with better perceptual/decision-making
skills performed more domain-specific practice than less
skilled players [244]. Differences in the amounts of orga-
nized domain-specific practice/training were, however,
only significant in these studies for data referring to
training in late adolescence and adulthood, not training at
younger ages (except rhythmic gymnastics [254]).
Such differences have not been observed between super-
elite and elite athletes in field hockey, soccer, tennis,
swimming [203,236,253,266] and across all Olympic
sports (including athletics, badminton, basketball, fencing,
figure skating, gymnastics, judo, rowing, soccer, swim-
ming, table tennis and wrestling) [20,230]. The opposite
effect has also been noted, with super-elite field hockey
players training significantly less than their elite peers
[258]. No consistent differences have been reported with
regard to the volume of competition experienced between
different success levels [241,244246,259].
Although the DP framework has gained popularity in
sport science and in popular literature, its applicability to
high-performance sport may be limited. The suggestion of
10 years/10,000 h was originally based on: (a) musicians,
not outstanding athletes; and (b) a strict interpretation of
DP, excluding intrinsically enjoyable activities, team
practice, play, competition, non-organized sporting activi-
ties, and also ruling out implicit (improved task perfor-
mance in the absence of conscious awareness) and
incidental learning (learning in the absence of an intention
to learn). DP also implies full attention and concentration,
while research indicates that full concentration does not
always generate optimal learning/performance. Increasing
conscious awareness may even result in poorer perfor-
mance (e.g. paralysis by analysis [268]; the regression
hypothesis [176]—(i.e., regressing to a performance level
akin to earlier learning). Evidence at non-elite level [176,
269] also indicates that implicit learning leads to more
robust performance under pressure. Finally, evidence at
junior elite [246,259,260,270], elite [242,244] and super-
elite level [241,245,266] demonstrates that organized and
non-organized play is an important component of (early)
experiences of developing sporting experts.
With moderate/high study design, moderate consistency
and high direct relevance (up to super-elite level), the
quality of evidence that extensive DP is an important
contributor to the development of super-elite performance
in sport is high to moderate, while high/moderate quality of
evidence suggests that the applicability of the 10 years/
10,000 h rule is limited and that DP alone does not guar-
antee sporting success. Additionally, the contribution of
practice/training to the development of sporting expertise
may only apply to domain-specific practice accrued during
late adolescence or adulthood, with practice volume not
discriminating elite from super-elite athletes. Finally, there
is some low quality evidence to suggest that automaticity
and implicit learning may contribute to the development of
sporting expertise. We therefore recommend that policy
makers and practitioners continue to promote deliberate
practice, but consider the present evidence before routinely
increasing practice volumes with junior athletes, and
acknowledge the potential benefits of automaticity, implicit
learning and also enjoyment in practice and play. The links
between early sport-specific practice/training and short-
and long-term outcomes are a research priority. How is
intensified specific training related to long-term enjoyment,
motivation, stress-recovery and prolonged involvement?
Future research should also further explore the roles of
explicit and implicit/incidental learning in the development
of expert performance. This implies scrutiny of the inten-
tions and specific activities performed during prac-
tice/training and play, their combinations, variability,
potential interactions and relative influence through dif-
ferent developmental age ranges.
4.2 Early Specialization Versus Sampling and Play
Where peak performance in sport is achieved before bio-
logical maturity, early specialization may be necessary to
reach elite level. For example, super-elite athletes in
artistic composition sports (artistic gymnastics, fig-
ure skating, platform diving and rhythmic gymnastics
[230]) performed three to seven times more sport-specific
training until age 10 years compared to all other types of
Olympic sports. Their volumes of practice/training did not,
however, differ from their elite counterparts within their
respective sports. A super-elite sample of rhythmic gym-
nasts also experienced reduced involvement in other sports
compared to their elite counterparts [254]. However, evi-
dence at non-elite, junior elite, elite and super-elite level
suggests that many athletes have not progressed exclu-
sively within one discipline, but have practiced multiple
sports during childhood and adolescence [230,236,241
244,260,270274]. Further, evidence from non-elite and
super-elite data [254,275278] points to the potential costs
and risks associated with early specific practice, training
and competitions (e.g. less enjoyment, time demands,
restricted activities outside sport, exhaustion, overuse
injuries and increased risk of dropout). Comparisons
between super-elite and elite athletes from field hockey,
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soccer, tennis and 47 Olympic sports [203,230,236,266]
have even demonstrated larger volumes of practice/training
and/or play in other sports among the super-elite, mostly
associated with a later start in their main sport and a later
specialization.
There is also evidence at non-elite, junior elite, elite and
super-elite level that many athletes have spent considerable
time in non-organized play during childhood [39,241,244,
246,255,259,260,270]. A positive relationship between
non-organized play and junior elite [246,260] and super-
elite success [266] has been noted, but equally other studies
have noted no differences between performance levels,
with some demonstrating more play among non-elite
compared with elite/super-elite athletes [236,241,244,
245,255,259,260]. Elite and non-elite soccer players
[279] could be differentiated by a combination of above-
average volume of organized soccer training/practice with
either above-average involvement in other sports or above-
average non-organized soccer play.
With moderate study design, moderate (early sampling
of diverse sports, late specialization)/low (play) consis-
tency, and high direct relevance (up to super-elite level),
the quality of the evidence that early specialization or
sampling represent the best route to the development of
super-elite performance in sport is moderate. Both early
specialization and sampling (and play) may be routes to
expertise under optimal conditions. However, the proba-
bility of attaining elite or super-elite level may be enhanced
by the coupling of a large volume of intensive, organized
specific training/practice in the main sport with appreciable
amounts of organized training/practice and competitions in
other sports and/or non-organized play in the main or other
sports. We thus recommend policy makers and practition-
ers to draw on this evidence, bearing in mind the need to
Table 1 Overview of research into the development of the world’s best sporting talent: study design quality, consistency of evidence, directness
of evidence and key points
Topic Study design quality Consistency of evidence Directness of evidence
The performer
Birthdate Moderate Low Moderate
Relative age effects exist but may not be robust across all sports
Genetics High Moderate Moderate
Genetics may influence and thus limit the development of performance. Performance cannot, however, be well predicted from genetic factors.
Caution should be urged for ethical and societal reasons when considering genetic selection methodologies
Anthropometric and physiological factors High High High
Anthropometric and physiological factors are important for performance. However, caution should be urged when using anthropometric and
physiological tests for talent selection purposes with adolescents because of variation in biological maturation
Psychological skills and motivational orientations Moderate High High
Psychological factors (e.g. motivation, confidence, perceived control, mental toughness, resilience, coping with adversity, resistance to
‘choking’, mental skills) appear to be important contributors to the development of super-elite performance
Personality traits Moderate Moderate/low High
Super-elite athletes are conscientious, optimistic, hopeful and perfectionist
The environment
Birthplace Moderate High High
Small-to-medium communities provide favourable environments for developing athletes. Talent hotspots may exist
Support from parents, family, siblings and coaches Moderate Moderate High
Super-elite athletes have benefitted from supportive families, coaches and networks during their development. The subtleties of the provision
of support are not well understood
Athlete support programmes Moderate Moderate/low High
Early success is a poor predictor for later super-elite success, and thus for early talent identification purposes. Super-elite success is mostly
preceded by relatively late entry into organized support programmes
Practice, training and play
Volume of sport-specific practice and training High/moderate Moderate High
Super-elite performance develops from extensive deliberate practice, but the applicability of the 10 years/10,000 hours ’rule’ to high-
performance sport is limited. Play may also be relevant, as may implicit/automatic and incidental skill learning
Early specialization vs. sampling and play Moderate Moderate/low High
The key to reaching super-elite level may be involvement in diverse sports during childhood and appreciable amounts of sport-specific
practice/training in late adolescence and adulthood
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minimize the potential hazards of early specialization when
such specialization is necessary, and with regard to pro-
moting opportunities for young athletes to experience non-
organized play and sampling in a variety of sports. Future
research is needed to understand how participation in
various sports benefits super-elite performance in one main
sport. Further, how does the process of late specialization
following prior diversification or ‘talent transfer’ proceed?
Are there certain sports or clusters that lay the best foun-
dation for super-elite success in a final sport?
5 Other Potential Factors
There are a number of additional topics that have been
raised in the literature, which do not meet the level of
evidence of the other topics in this review (e.g. descriptive,
anecdotal, non-elite sport or one study). Under-studied in
sport, the quality of evidence for these topics is thus low,
and we cannot make recommendations to act. Nonetheless,
they may still be intriguing ‘candidates’ for future exami-
nation. They include: the role of the family’s socioeco-
nomic status in different sports and countries [203,280
282]; the different routes to super-elite level across cultures
[237]; making errors in the learning process without
penalties or consequences [283]; the significance of
recovery, rest and sleep to optimize the benefits of practice
[284287], potentially linked to the reminiscence effect
(i.e. ‘improvement in the performance of a partially learned
act that occurs while the subject is resting’ p. 3; [288]); the
opportunity in sport for athletes to identify, express and
(thereby) exercise control over their emotions, which in
normal life they find difficult to express [289,290]; and
finally, a potential impact of childhood emotional trauma
on qualities such as mental toughness, grit, resilience,
growth mindset, achievement striving and ability to over-
come difficulties [291293]—and relatedly, positive or
negative ‘critical’ events with high personal significance
(e.g. success milestones, squad selection, non-selection,
losses, injury, school disruption, parental divorce and
bereavement [23,156,158,159,291,294296]).
6 Conclusion
We reviewed key topics (see Table 1) relevant to the
development of the world’s best sporting talent, generating
a current level of understanding, recommendations to act
and suggestions for future research. In encouraging
researchers, we would point to the relative dearth of
prospective and multidisciplinary studies that could offer
insight regarding the complex interactions that almost
certainly exist across domains. Embracing this complexity
remains the most obvious future direction.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Funding The initial development of the manuscript was supported
by a research grant from UK Sport.
Conflict of interest Tim Rees, Lew Hardy, Arne Gu
¨llich, Bruce
Abernethy, Jean Co
ˆte
´, Tim Woodman, Hugh Montgomery, Stewart
Laing and Chelsea Warr declare that they have no potential conflicts
of interest relevant to the content of this review.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give
appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a
link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were
made.
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... Currently, nations interested in a good position in the international level competition, especially at the Olympic Games, try to optimize their limited resources to achieve outstanding results. Sport science-based approaches have been reported to be effective, and the successful experience of Great Britain regarding talent development has been reported (Rees et al., 2016). Indeed, systems developed to improve the efficiency of the work executed by coaches and sports scientists have provided scientific evidence to increase sports skills at different ages (Balagué et al., 2017). ...
Article
Purpose: We determined whether cadet and junior Judo World Championship participation and medal achievement would predict senior performance at World Championship (WC) and Olympic Games (OG). Methods: We analyzed retrospectively a total of 7780 athletes who competed at the OG and WC in the cadet, junior, and senior between 2009 and 2021. Results: There was an increase in the probability of winning a medal in the senior category (WC and OG, and only WC) ranged from 4.3 to 4.5 for medal-winning cadets compared to non-medalists and this probability remained around 3.3–3.8 for medalists in the male and 5.3–5.4 for the female medalists in cadet WC. Moreover, the chance of winning a medal in the senior category (WC and OG) was 8.1–8.5 times greater for medalists when compared to non-medalists in the junior WC. In turn, the probability of winning a medal in the senior (WC) was 1.5–1.7 times greater for athletes who did not compete in the junior WC. In the OG, the probability of winning a medal was 3.5 greater times for medalists when compared to non-medalists at cadet and junior WC. Conclusion: Thus, being a cadet or junior WC medalist increases the probability of winning a senior WC or an Olympic medal.
... Al igual que la revisión crítica realizada por Coutinho y colaboradores (2016), concluyeron que la práctica multideportiva podría acompañar a los deportistas más jóvenes hacia el máximo rendimiento en la élite. Esta conclusión sería aplicable a todas las disciplinas en las que el máximo rendimiento deportivo se alcanza una vez superada la madurez biológica (Rees et al., 2016). Sarmento y colaboradores (2018) manifestaron que, según algunos estudios incluidos en la revisión, la práctica de otros deportes distintos al fútbol en edad temprana no implica mejoras en las habilidades propiamente futbolísticas, pero admiten la falta de estudios de naturaleza prospectiva a largo plazo para realizar afirmaciones de tal dimensión. ...
... When considering that over extended periods of time athletes may undergo dramatic changes to their performance (Moran et al., 2020), coaches should acknowledge the value in allowing athletes to fully mature and develop before selecting their permanent playing position (Arede et al., 2021). This is in agreement with the research of Rees et al. 2016 which states that smaller players are placed in guard positions due to the transfer of the ball, while taller and stronger players (centers and forward centers) are placed closer to the basket due to the frequency of jumping and high percentage of shots on the basket. The superior results of forward players in this study can also be attributed to the fact that they spend the most time running during a basketball game (Abdelkrim et al., 2010b). ...
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As basketball constantly evolves, physical performance becomes more and more important. Physical fitness assessments are the most reliable way to find out at what level a basketball player is prepared to perform. Therefore, the main aim of this research was to determine if the speed, agility and power of under-16-year-old (U16) basketball players is related to their playing positions. The study included (n = 40) young basketball (aged 14.99 ± 0.84 years) players. The variables included height, body mass, body mass index (BMI), fat-free mass (FFM), the percentage of body fat (BF%), the counter movement jump (CMJ), counter movement jump with free arms (CMJ free arms), squat jump (SJ), 5m, 10m, 15m and 20m sprints, T-test, Illinois test and 505 test. The results showed that centers are taller and heavier than other positions, while the speed, agility and power of forwards are greater than other positions. At the youth basketball level there are differences in anthropometric and physical fitness testing results between positions. This supports the fact that athletes may be more likely to be selected for a given position based on how their anthropometric and athletic abilities pair with the demands of a given position.
... The participants trained in the following areas: Northern England (2) and Southern England (2). Participants were Junior elite, and this was defined as competing at national level competition and above (Rees et al., 2016). Interviews were semi-structured, and the aim was to understand what it was like for participants to play elite junior tennis. ...
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Narrative theory states that through creating personal stories people can make sense of their lives and create an identity. The “performance narrative” is a story of single-minded dedication to sport performance, where, winning, results, achievements are pre-eminent and link closely to the athlete’s mental well-being. The “performance narrative” has received attention in professional sports settings, but research has yet to investigate the possible effects on junior tennis players. The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of 4 UK, elite junior tennis players and describe what it is like to perform in the elite junior context. An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of 4 elite junior tennis players describes their insights into elite junior tennis. This study found that (a) participants prioritise results at an early age (b) the “performance narrative” influenced participants attitudes to learning (c) the “performance narrative” reduced participants enjoyment of competition. The findings of this research contribute to an evolving, problematic epistemology of sports coaching and confirms that the performance narrative permeates junior tennis culture, interferes with attitude to learning, and reduces enjoyment of competition. The findings present governing bodies opportunities to inform player, parent, and coach education so the performance narrative does not negatively influence junior tennis players.
... During their years at the sport school, the adolescents have most likely started to explore and reflect upon possible vocational choices and opportunities. Being identified as a skilled young athlete and selected to be a part of a structure designed to help them combine school with intense training does not significantly predict long-term athletic success (Rees et al., 2016). It is also possible that some adolescents began to devalue their sport because they felt obligated to or began planning for potential alternative careers. ...
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The goal of this research was to test whether and to what extent personality traits contribute to the explanation of state anxiety in athletes. This study relied on a multidimensional construct of anxiety which includes somatic and cognitive anxiety and sport self-confidence. Dimensions of anxiety were measured with "Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2"-CSAI-2, and HEXACO basic personality traits were measured with the instrument HEXACO-60. The research sample consisted of 117 athletes, who were engaged in various competitive sports. Results showed the statistically significant correlations between honesty, emotionality, extraversion, and conscientiousness as personality traits on the one hand and cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety and self-confidence on the other. Whereas correlations between agreeableness and openness to experience on the one hand and cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety and self-confidence on the other are not statistically significant. Multiple regression analysis were conducted with the aim of predicting the dimensions of anxiety based on personality traits in athletes. Based on personality traits 37% of variability in cognitive anxiety, 30% of somatic anxiety, and 36% of variability in self-confidence were explained. This study provided a better understanding of the personality traits of athletes that contribute to state of anxiety, coping with challenges and reacting in competitive situations.
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The purposes of this study were (i) to describe differences in participation in 100-mile ultra-marathons by continent; (ii) to investigate differences in performance between continents; and (iii) to identify the fastest runners by continent and country. Data from 148,169 athletes (119,408 men), aged 18–81 years, and finishers in a 100-miles ultra-marathon during 1870–2020 were investigated. Information about age, gender, origin, performance level (top three, top 10, top 100) was obtained. Kruskal–Wallis tests and linear regressions were performed. Athletes were mostly from America and Europe. A macro-analysis showed that the fastest men runners were from Africa, while the fastest women runners were from Europe and Africa. Women from Sweden, Hungary and Russia presented the best performances in the top three, top 10 and top 100. Men from Brazil, Russia and Lithuania were the fastest. The lowest performance and participation were observed for runners from Asia. In summary, in 100-miles ultra-marathon running, the majority of athletes were from America, but for both sexes and performance levels, the fastest runners were from Africa. On a country level, the fastest women were from Sweden, Hungary and Russia, while the fastest men were from Brazil, Russia and Lithuania.
Article
Background: Although adolescent basketballers differ in body size, shape, and composition, less is known about how these factors interact during physical development. Aim: We used ontogenetic allometry to identify the optimal body size and shape characteristics associated physical performance in adolescent basketball players, and investigate the effects of training experience, training volume, maturity status, and club characteristics on physical performance development. Subjects and methods: Two hundred and sixty-four male basketballers, from five age-cohorts (11-15 years of age), were followed consecutively over three years. Three physical performance components, anthropometrics, training information, and biological maturation were assessed bi-annually. Longitudinal multiplicative allometric models were developed. Results: Players with a physique that had a dominant ectomorphic component performed better in all physical performance components. When adjusting for confounders other than size, the development of running speed was independent of body size. Players advanced in maturation were physically fitter. Training data had no significant effect on developmental trajectories of running speed or lower body explosive strength. Club characteristics had no significant association with any physical performance trajectories. Conclusion: Leaner players have advantages in physical performance and individual characteristics play an important role, over and beyond club structure, in developing physical performance.
Article
The correlates of coach-athlete relationship quality have been the focus of research for over a decade; however, little is known about the mediating and moderating mechanisms underlying these associations. The present study conducted a moderated mediation analysis to examine (a) the mediating role of communication strategies (via COMPASS) on the association between the quality of the coach-athlete relationship and athlete psychological needs satisfaction and (b) whether individual differences in athletes’ attachment style (secure, anxious, avoidant) moderates the mediational relationship. 350 Swedish athletes representing a range of sports and competition levels completed a multi-section questionnaire. Mediation and moderation analysis partially found that coach-athlete relationship quality and athletes basic psychological needs were associated via the COMPASS strategies of support, motivation, assurance and openness. It was also found that athletes secure attachment with their coach significantly moderated the mediated effects of motivation and support. These findings highlight the practical utility of motivation, support, openness and assurance strategies in enhancing the quality of the coach-athlete relationship. Moreover, these findings demonstrate that the attachment orientation of athletes towards their coaches play a significant role in determining what communication strategies to use to enhance both the relationship quality and an athlete’s competence, autonomy and relatedness.
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Estimating the potential of alpine skiers is an unresolved question, especially because of the complexity of sports performance. We developed a potential estimation model based solely on the evolution of performance as a function of age. A bayesian mixed model allowed to estimate the potential curve and the age at peak performance for the population (24.81 ± 0.2) and for each individual as the uncertainty around this curve. With Gaussian mixtures, we identified among all the estimates four types of curves, clustered according to the performance level and the progression per age. Relying on the uncertainty calculated on the progression curve the model created also allow to estimate a score and an uncertainty associated with each cluster for all individuals. The results allows to: i) describe and explain the relationship between age and performance in alpine skiing from a species point of view (at 0.87%) and ii) to provide to sport staffs the estimation of the potential of each individual and her/his typology of progression to better detect sports potential. The entire methodology is based on age and performance data, but the progression identified may depend on parameters specific to alpine skiing.
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Despite evident differences between approaches to talent development, many share a set of common characteristics and presumptions. We call this the Standard Model of Talent Development (SMTD). This model is articulated and the relevant literature drawn out to highlight the model's strengths and weaknesses. The SMTD has been enormously influential, in terms of both policy documentation and practice, and it retains an obvious common sense appeal. However, we will argue that not only is its attractiveness illusionary and inconsistent to the emerging evidence base from research, but it is also undesirable from a variety of perspectives and desired outcomes. In short, we suggest that the most common system for identifying talent is unsubstantiated from both a process and an outcome perspective.
Article
The youth athletic backgrounds of professional baseball players were assessed to determine whether there was early specialization in baseball, and to determine the influence of both their high school baseball coaches and parents on their baseball careers. Players were also asked to comment on the ideal activities for aspiring young baseball players. Questionnaires were administered to 152 players from six teams in the Northwest Rookie League. Players were generally multisport athletes during high school. Specialization by playing position appeared to be delayed until the professional level, with most players playing several defensive positions during their elementary, junior high, and high school years. Players generally concurred with the advice they had received from their high school baseball coaches, that young, talented baseball players should practice and train for baseball on a year-round basis and should also participate in other school sports.
Article
Certain dimensions of perfectionism appear to place junior athletes at greater risk of burnout. The current study adopted self-determination theory to explain why this is the case. Specifically, as athlete burnout is believed to have a motivational signature that can be described using motivational regulation, the study examined whether autonomous motivation and controlled motivation mediated the perfectionism–burnout relationship. Junior athletes (n = 211, M age = 15.61 years, s = 1.73) completed measures of multidimensional perfectionism, athlete burnout, and motivational regulation. Structural equation modeling revealed that autonomous motivation and controlled motivation partially mediated the relationship between perfectionism and burnout. Perfectionistic concerns had a positive direct and indirect (via controlled motivation) relationship with burnout. In contrast, perfectionistic strivings had a negative direct and indirect (via autonomous motivation) relationship with burnout. The findings suggest that perfectionistic concerns encompass a pattern of motivational regulation, which contributes to the occurrence of athlete burnout, whereas perfectionistic strivings encompass a pattern of motivational regulation inversely associated with athlete burnout.
Article
A conventional wisdom in the lay sociology of sport journalism is that North American professional ice hockey players are disproportionately recruited from smaller communities and rural areas. One explanation given for this is that avenues for social mobility are more limited in such communities and that sport is heavily pursued as one of the few areas of opportunity. Sections of the sociological literature would suggest, though, that the opposite relationship may occur because larger cities have better opportunity structures for developing and expressing sport skills. These alternative expectations are tested for Canadian-born players in three professional leagues and for players on the last three Olympic teams. In addition, data for U.S. Olympic teams are presented. In interpreting the results, we also employ Canadian national survey data on mass participation of male youths in hockey. The findings show that the largest cities are underrepresented as birthplaces of players at each elite level, whereas small towns are overrepresented. Yet, community size does not appear related to the general population of male youths’ rate of participation in hockey. Emphasized are interpretations concerning how amateur hockey is organized.
Article
The role of practice is considered in view of two models: Ericsson's framework of Deliberate Practice and Scanlan's Sport Commitment Model. As tests of the model of Deliberate Practice several studies are reviewed that examine career progress in accumulated practice, amount of practice per week and relative importance and demand of various practice and everyday activities in: wrestling, figure skating, field hockey and soccer. A series of studies on the ≪microstructure≫ of practice question whether practice activities really are optimized for the athlete to acquire the most/best forms of practice. Finally, the article examines coaches' perception of ≪talent≫ Data are presented that suggest that much of what coaches term early talent may be explained by relative age effects.
Article
The present study forms the first of two progressive investigations into the development and activation of achievement goals within young sports performers. The focal research question in this paper centers on identifying and understanding some of the underlying factors and processes responsible for the socialization of goal orientations and the activation of goal involvement states in a competition context. In-depth interviews were conducted on seventeen elite junior tennis players who represented a full cross-section of achievement goal profiles. Following inductive content analyses, four general dimensions emerged demonstrating how the development and activation of task and ego goals rested on a complex interaction of cognitive-developmental and social-environmental factors. Specific general dimensions included cognitive-developmental skills and experiences, the motivational climate conveyed by significant others, the structural and social nature of the game, and the match context. The rich detail within these dimensions serves not only to extend our knowledge of achievement goals and achievement goal theory, but also to inform practitioners of key components to effective social-cognitive interventions.
Article
The theoretical framework presented in this article explains expert performance as the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years. Analysis of expert performance provides unique evidence on the potential and limits of extreme environmental adaptation and learning.