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The role of representative design in talent development: a comment on “Talent identification and promotion programmes of Olympic athletes”

Taylor & Francis
Publication Date
  • Ecology
  • Geography


A recent comment in the Journal of Sports Sciences (MacNamara & Collins, 2011) highlighted some major concerns with the current structure of talent identification and development (TID) programmes of Olympic athletes (e.g. Gulbin, 2008; Vaeyens, Gullich, Warr, & Philippaerts, 2009). In a cogent commentary, MacNamara and Collins (2011) provided a short review of the extant literature, which was both timely and insightful. Specifically, they criticised the ubiquitous one-dimensional ‘physically-biased’ attempts to produce world class performers, emphasising the need to consider a number of key environmental variables in a more multi-disciplinary perspective. They also lamented the wastage of talent, and alluded to the operational and opportunistic nature of current talent transfer programmes. A particularly compelling aspect of the comment was their allusion to high profile athletes who had ‘failed’ performance evaluation tests and then proceeded to succeed in that sport. This issue identifies a problem with current protocols for evaluating performance and is a line of research that is sorely needed in the area of talent development. To understand the nature of talent wastage that might be occurring in high performance programmes in sport, future empirical work should seek to follow the career paths of ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ products of TID programmes, in comparative analyses. Pertinent to the insights of MacNamara and Collins (2011), it remains clear that a number of questions have not received enough attention from sport scientists interested in talent development, including: (i) why is there so much wastage of talent in such programmes? And (ii), why are there so few reported examples of successful talent transfer programmes? These questions highlight critical areas for future investigation. The aim of this short correspondence is to discuss these and other issues researchers and practitioners might consider, and to propose how an ecological dynamics underpinning to such investigations may help the development of existing protocols...

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