The controversy around early talent identification

Many sport organizations in Canada practice early talent identification (TID), a process where children between the ages of 10-14 are evaluated and selected for high-performance sport programs and put on a track towards athletic success. Unfortunately, this can lead to issues for both those who are identified and those who are not, and this approach often doesn’t take into account the Long-Term Development of athletes. 

Recently, the Sport Information Resource Centre published an article featuring two PhD candidates discussing the pros and cons of TID. Aaron Koenigsberg and Jesse Korf of York University shared their insights in an April blog post that examined the issue from an academic standpoint.

“While adversaries of early TID argue for the inclusion of as many athletes as possible in a development system, they overlook the fact that finite resources exist to support the high-quality programming that aspiring elite athletes require to have the greatest chance for future success,” writes Koenigsberg, arguing that advocates for inclusion don’t appreciate the “scarcity of resources” available for aspiring athletes.

“Although not every athlete who is supported by TID programmes will ‘make-it’ to the highest level, selecting athletes who are seen as having the greatest potential for future success at early ages and affording them high-quality environments will improve their chances of attaining future elite status.”

Korf, meanwhile, argues that TID is ineffective and can lead to injuries and burn-out.

“When arguing against early TID, one needs to look no further than professional sports drafts, where teams select players in their late teens and early twenties while relying on state-of-the-art analytics and evaluation tools. And yet, the accuracy of their selections is poor at best,” he writes. 

“Early specialisation may also lead to less enjoyment of sport among children and youth as there is typically more adult-supervised structure and less play. This becomes more problematic when considering that the vast majority of children engaging in sport will not make it to the professional level.” 

TID is bound to remain a contentious issue for national sport organizations for years to come, and will have implications for countless athletes. It’s crucial that coaches and parents give this issue serious thought as they mindfully guide athletes through the earliest stages of their development in the pursuit of athletic excellence. 

To learn more about Long-Term Development principles and the Sport for Life approach to specialization, we encourage you to download and read Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity

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