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A critical examination of talent development systems in high performance sport

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posted on 2022-12-21, 11:41 authored by Lynne Algar
Talent development (TD) in high performance sport is a complex process of interacting genetic and experiential factors (Farrow, Baker, & MacMahon, 2013). In current practice, there appears to be a considerable gap between what research informs us we need for successful TD and what is applied in a real world setting (Martindale et al., 2007). Consequently, if athletes fail to acquire essential psychological characteristics or learn proficient fundamental movement skills then they may never maximise their potential and dropout from sport prematurely. The reasons underlying this apparent loss in translation between research and applied sports science may be due to a lack of understanding of the TD processes and inexperienced coaches operating at an under-age level when the fundamentals of sports performance should be acquired. National Governing Bodies (NGBs) may also be guilty of attempting to use a generic ‘one-size fits all’ approach to TD before acknowledging and addressing the underlying competencies of their system. This research project aims to help resolve these issues by critically examining a sample talent development systems (TDS) of aspiring high performance athletes and identify the key support factors and challenges that are instrumental for success. These findings were used to offer support for existing research and provide novel methods for coaches and those responsible for TD to operate more effective systems and translate potential into successful performance. The true value of this thesis is its strong interaction with coaches, athletes and support staff, particularly when exploring means to better facilitate athletes in pursuit of performance excellence. Accordingly, a series of semi-structured, qualitative interviews were conducted with development level and high performance athletes and their coaches to identify critical factors for successful negotiation of the talent development pathway (TDP). The results point towards specific social and tangible sources of support as well as the use of psychological skills. Notable findings suggest that many coaches perceive that they are not fully equipped with the knowledge, experience or skillset to support athletes toward the next level of performance. Further evidence suggests that the lack of coherency across the TDP, including poor communication networks and equivocal development and performance objectives impede the progress of an athlete toward sustainable senior international performance. Qualitative findings were used to develop the Athlete Support and Skill Assessment Questionnaire; a questionnaire designed to inform coaches and NGBs of the competency of their TDS to support their athletes and the ability of the athlete to negotiate the TDP. The resulting 40-item 4 factor ASSAQ (41.33% total variance) provides key stakeholders with a means to assess and monitor critical factors and themes (i.e., Social Support, Tangible Resources, Psychological Skills, and Signs of Stress) important for effective facilitation of TD. This thesis offers novel findings through empirical studies that help to bridge the gap between research and applied practice by improving the present understanding and knowledge about effective talent development systems in sport.



Faculty of Education and Health Sciences



First supervisor

MacDonncha, Ciaran

Second supervisor

MacNamara, Áine





Department or School

  • Physical Education and Sports Science

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