Can we please forget about ways to identify talent and just work on getting more athletes?

    Last week the National Sports Institute (ISN) signed an MoU with a local university to provide data services that will help eight sports identify future talent. The eight sports are athletics, football, rugby, swimming, badminton, cycling, weightlifting and sepak takraw. This will be accomplished with the help of new software developed at Universiti Malaysia Pahang. Details of how this software worked were not provided other than to say that data on 500,000 candidates could be stored in the new system.

    Regular readers of these articles know that I believe identifying future sport talent with scientific tests or fancy software is impossible. There are simply too many variables and environmental factors that go into shaping a young athlete into an elite performer. We don't know what all of these variables are and even if we did tracking them with computer programs is not really practical, at least not yet. But there are lots of measurements that can be done on youngsters that can help manage the talent development process and I suspect this is what the new software really does but I don't actually know.

    The idea of being able to predict future sport talent has been around since at least the 1970s when East Germany was reportedly using various measurements and biological tests to determine future athletic ability. The success of East German athletes during that period launched a worldwide frenzy to figure out ways to predict future talent. We know now that East Germany's brief sport dominance was fueled by drugs and not brilliant methods to predict talent but attempts to discover elusive "scientific" methods of prediction persist to this day.

    I'm not saying that software will never be able to predict talent. We will know when we get there when software is able to predict stock prices, and this, I'm sure, will happen first. Until then we'll just have to develop sport talent the old-fashioned way, through hard work.

    The macro problem of which sport talent is part is one of overall sport development. Relying on talent identification (TID) to improve the chances of Malaysia in international competition is not really a good use of time or money. It's too finely focused to really make a difference even if it did work, which it doesn't. The main problem of sport performance in Malaysia is that it simply doesn't have enough athletes. Getting more athletes into training programs is the real key to development. And they don't even have to be good athletes. Given time they will learn to be good.

    This is more of an association task and not one for the Ministry of Youth and Sports or the ISN. Increasing the number of athletes is where the real challenge of sport development lies and its success or failure rests with the various sport associations.

    Malaysia has toyed with TID before and it seems to have become a good example of functional fixedness. Many administrators are convinced that identifying sport talent is not only possible but essential to Malaysian sport success. That this concept has never produced results is never questioned. The possibility that TID is just a pipe dream is never considered.

    There is plenty of evidence from other countries showing that sport associations can develop quality, elite level athletes without the hoopla and wasted effort of talent identification schemes. The main focus of TID when it is discussed in the press seems to be more on administrators than athletes, and it's usually triggered by changes in leadership. Could it be that TID is merely an attention magnet designed to get new administrators noticed by the press?

    When things don't workout we have to have the courage to throw out yesterday's ideas and look for new ways to do things. Talent identification is one of those things that is talked about a lot but has produced nothing of value. Maybe it's time to put it aside and focus on strategies that will work. They may take more effort but the payback will be worth it.

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    Bill Price (price@sportkid.asia) is the owner and Chief Data Scientist at Sportkid Metrics.

     

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    The tip of the iceberg: What are we seeing when we watch elite sport performances? - 30 July 2018


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    Kaizen: Improving sport administration will improve performance - 02 April 2018


    What can Malaysia learn from Norway about sport development? - 05 March 2018


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    Efficiency tips for coaches: What can you do to work more efficiently? - 19 February 2018


    LTAD: Training to compete - 22 January 2018


    Sport clubs are the lifeblood of national sport development. They need help from sport associations to do their job. - 15 January 2018


    Sometimes taking risks is the only way to improve: Take a chance! - 18 December 2017


    How we calculate age in youth sports can have benefits and consequences - 11 December 2017


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    Understanding the role that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play in the athlete development process - 20 November 2017


    Great expectations: Expect more, get more! What we learn from raising the bar in sport performance - 14 November 2017


    Why process is far more important than outcome in a learning environment - 25 September 2017


    Sport associations are embracing physical literacy training - 18 September 2017


    Creating a true sport development system in Malaysia - 11 September 2017


    Who won the SEA Games? - 04 September 2017


    KL2017: Reporting individual sport results deserved better planning - 29 August 2017


    Can we please forget about ways to identify talent and just work on getting more athletes? - 07 August 2017


    Using the team selection process to boost motivation and increase athlete participation - 24 July 2017


    LTAD: The Train to Train stage - 10 July 2017


    LTAD: The Learn-to-Train stage - 26 June 2017


    Athletic training for youngsters - 12 June 2017


    Visualization and imagery in sports - 05 June 2017


    Young, single-sport athletes suffer more injuries and do not reach their full potential - 29 May 2017


    Transformational vs. transactional coaching - 23 May 2017


    Will they come back tomorrow? The most important KPI for youth sport coaches - 08 May 2017


    Advice to parents of young athletes - 01 May 2017


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


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


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


    Developing sport from the ground up: How does the process really work? - 06 December 2016


    Pay for what you want: Why less government funding may be the best strategy for sport development - 21 November 2016


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


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


    A foreign coach is not always the answer - 17 October 2016


    Tips on creating an effective coaching environment - 10 October 2016


    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? - 13 September 2016


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


    Solve for <x> - 29 August 2016


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


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


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


    Coaching 'flow' - 11 November 2015


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


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


    The power of 'not yet' - 20 July 2015


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