Time is the most important factor in talent development

    In the retail world the secret to making a sale is to keep a potential customer in your store as long as possible. The longer the customer is able to see and feel an item and imagine that he already owns it the more likely it is that he will buy it. One of the most valuable skills that a salesman possesses is his ability to keep a customer in the store long enough to make a difference. Obviously there are other skills needed by retailers but if the customer isn't there then any other skills a salesman may have are irrelevant.

    Likewise, good coaches know that keeping youngsters involved in sport activity is the secret to developing athletes. My swim coaching career taught me that the longer I could keep youngsters interested in swimming the more likely it was that they would eventually excel. With young athletes this meant conducting practice sessions in such a way that youngsters wanted to return the next day. This meant that I had to make the practice sessions interesting, fun, and challenging. It meant that I had to show interest in each athlete, not just the so-called good ones. I know that if every child on my team left the pool with a smile on their face and looking forward to their next practice session then I had done my job.

    Popular wisdom says that coaches can spot talent but if you were to ask me which of the dozen or so chubby little 10-year-olds I trained would later become elite level performers I simply wouldn't know. No one would. But I did know that the odds favored at least some of them reaching the elite level if only I could keep them interested in the sport long enough to make a difference. Expert coaching, great facilities, good equipment -- none of these were important to those 10-year-olds. Later they would be, but in the beginning the only thing that mattered was time and learning to enjoy the sport.

    When we talk about developing athletes and coaching we tend to lose sight of the fact that the development process occurs over a long period of time sort of like education. In primary school we don't expect that youngsters will be learning probability statistics in their math classes. Nor do we have to hire Nobel Prize winning mathematicians to teach children how to add and subtract. The skillset of a youth coach is different from that of a high performance coach.

    The coaching skillset varies depending on the age of the athlete. As a coach I eventually developed the skills and knowledge I needed to help athletes reach the elite level in the United States but when I was coaching the youngest athletes on my team these elite level skills weren't needed nor were they very useful. The most important skill at the beginning level was being able to make the sport interesting and fun. If I could challenge the young athletes at every practice session and make it fun then they would return the next day. The longer they were involved in the sport the better chance they had of reaching elite levels of performance.

    Coaches who train young athletes like they were already at the elite level usually lose those athletes to other sports, or to sports all together. If sport participation isn't enjoyable at young ages why should youngsters do it? Subjecting youngsters to practice regimens better suited to older, more experienced athletes insures that the youngsters will have a miserable experience, and they will quit the sport. The result is that we will never know if they could have reached the elite level or not because we chased them away at a young age.

    This is probably the biggest sport development problem in Malaysia. Young athletes simply don't receive the time they need to learn and develop. Coaches are trying to spot talent and recruit these youngsters onto school or state teams while rejecting those who show no obvious ability at young ages.

    Choosing young athletes who show better sport ability than their peers for sport training on the assumption that if they're good as a youngster they will be really good when they get older is faulty logic. It's one of those things that sounds like it should be true but isn't. When examined critically research has uncovered the rare case or two where this has actually worked but it is the exception rather than the rule.

    Through research and experience we know that the most important factor in sport talent development is how long an athlete stays engaged with the sport. It's not the training program, strength training, fancy facilities, or how much the coach knows about the sport that matters at this stage. These are important later, after the athlete becomes hooked on the activity.

    The organizing principle underlying all sport development must be to create youth programs that offer both time and opportunity for all youngsters to learn a sport and enjoy participating in it. Not just those who show what some might mistakenly call "talent," but for all young athletes.

    Coaches training should emphasize that it's not their job to find talented young athletes in ill-advised talent identification schemes. But rather to create sport environments where young Malaysian athletes can learn and enjoy sports, actually get hooked on them. As the years pass some of these athletes will develop remarkable robust skills and eventually develop into elite, high performance athletes. This won't happen though if youngsters don't have the time and opportunity to learn and participate.

    --------
    Bill Price (price@ussa-my.com) is the Chief Information Officer at USSA Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

    All articles

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    Is VIP leadership of sport associations a good idea? - 22 March 2017


    PLKN Training of Trainers completed in Malaka - 13 March 2017


    Pre- and post-testing for 6 fitness elements in PLKN camps - 06 March 2017


    What happens after an athlete's initial introduction to sport? - 27 February 2017


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    Malaysian schoolchildren study illustrates relative age effect - 13 February 2017


    What is the anaerobic threshold? - 06 February 2017


    "Naturalization is the key to sport success." Really? - 30 January 2017


    Knowing the difference between a sports program and a sports team is the difference between high performance and poor performance - 23 January 2017


    "Where do athletes come from?" A paper presented at the Kuching sport psychology conference - 16 January 2017


    Understanding sport talent pathways - 09 January 2017


    Make 2017 the year of the growth mindset - 02 January 2017


    Individualism vs. collectivism in sport - 26 December 2016


    Performance Data Project releases percentile tables for International Physical Performance Test - 19 December 2016


    Teaching physical literacy skills in youth sport practices - 12 December 2016


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    The 10,000 hour rule: "Not for the faint of heart nor for the impatient" - 14 November 2016


    Parent involvement in their child's sport participation sometimes backfires - 07 November 2016


    Physical literacy or physical education: Which is it? - 31 October 2016


    How to do the measurements for determining peak height velocity (PHV) - 24 October 2016


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    Peak height velocity and aerobic development: Using simple measurement data to inform training decisions - 26 September 2016


    Early sport specialization is still not a good idea - 19 September 2016


    What kind of data do we need to develop sports? - 12 September 2016


    The attrition and transformation models of sport development - 05 September 2016


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    Parental support is vital to sport success - 22 August 2016


    Artificial elimination of athletes from training and competition hinders sport development in Malaysia - 15 August 2016


    A sport development system vs. just being lucky - 08 August 2016


    Time is the most important factor in talent development - 01 August 2016


    The IOC is wrong: Russia should have been banned from Rio - 28 July 2016


    Building pyramids: A lesson in goal setting - 20 June 2016


    What if opportunity never knocks? - 13 June 2016


    The long-term athlete development framework offers youngsters a chance at sport success and an active and healthy life - 06 June 2016


    Early sport specialization is not a good development strategy - 30 May 2016


    It's time to stop talking about BMI - 24 May 2016


    Happy Teachers' Day! - 16 May 2016


    USSA Malaysia at official Khidmat Negara 2.0 launch - 27 April 2016


    Changing the SEA Games event list ignores key sport development principles - 16 April 2016


    Welcome PLKN trainers! - 25 March 2016


    Malaysian youth are not overweight, but they're not active either - 15 February 2016


    Cycling coach hits the nail on the head - 5 February 2016


    What does a declining population mean for sport? - 2 February 2016


    McClung launches Healthy Lifestyle book at convocation ceremony - 01 January 2016


    Almost 500 graduates attend convocation at the Institut Latihan DBKL - 09 December 2015


    REMINDER: Deadline to register for convocation is 27 November! - 25 November 2015


    Convocation registration is now open! - 20 November 2015


    Coaching 'flow' - 11 November 2015


    The coach's role in creating a deliberate practice environment - 02 November 2015


    USSA Malaysia teaching Fit4Life module in Khidmat Negara pilot - 26 October 2015


    IDPESC convocation set for Thursday, 3 December - 29 September 2015


    When should athletes specialize in a single sport? - 11 September 2015


    Physical literacy: The Holy Grail of health, wellness, and sport development - 1 September 2015


    Selamat Hari Merdeka! - 31 August 2015


    IDPESC '14 grades are available in student portals - 29 August 2015


    IDPESC students should verify their personal information in the student portal - 26 August 2015


    Convocation lists for IDPESC 2014 are being finalized - 22 August 2015


    Ten minutes to aerobic fitness - 17 August 2015


    Revisiting the 10,000 hour rule: Practical thoughts on talent and practice - 10 August 2015


    The one-minute exercise program - 01 August 2015


    The power of 'not yet' - 20 July 2015


    20 things a physical education teacher knows that you don’t (part 2) - 13 July 2015


    20 things a physical education teacher knows that you don’t - 06 July 2015


    Playing football in class is not physical education - 29 June 2015


    Why is there no grade for the CEE 526 data submission? - 28 June 2015


    Let's stop trying to identify sport talent and start developing it - 22 June 2015


    Account recovery process streamlined - 19 June 2015


    Seeing and listening use different parts of the brain - 15 June 2015


    All IDPESC assignments and performance data is due by 30 June - 12 June 2015


    Ban the sit-up - 09 June 2015


    Assignments highlighted in red need to be resubmitted - 30 May 2015


    Age and sex of performance testing subjects are determined by their IC number - 23 May 2015


    Happy Teacher's Day! - 16 May 2015


    30 May deadline for second batch of IDPESC assignments - 12 May 2015


    USSA-MY gets new look - 11 May 2015