Talent Detection Programs in Sport: The Questionable Use of Psychological Measures

Article excerpt

The pressure exerted by sports organizations, sponsors, and, in some countries, by governmental bodies (e.g., Sport Authorities, Olympic Training Centers) on young athletes to be successful sports competitors is greater than ever. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is also considerable pressure to predict future high quality sport performance in competitive settings by using various physiological, anthropometrical, and psychological tests on young athletes (see Abbott & Collins, 2002, 2004; Martindale, Collins, & Daubney, 2005; Tranckle & Cushion, 2006). Vaeyens, Gullich, Warr, and Philippaerts (2009) contend that programs whose aim is to predict future sport success, called talent detection (TD) or talent identification (TID) programs, "are designed to identify young athletes who possess extraordinary potential for success in senior elite sport, and to select and recruit them into talent promotion programs" (p. 1367). The purpose of these programs is, ostensibly, to "increase athletes' potential by means of a variety of institutional measures designed to accelerate talent development" (p. 1367). Another purpose is to provide tests--motor, physiological, anthropological, biomechanical, and psychological--during an athlete's "early" years in order to predict long-term success in competitive sport. The intention of these programs is to allocate scarce resources toward individual athletes whose test scores show "promising" talent, at least in the long-term. Are these objectives met? Are the tests valid? Is this a good idea, at least from a philosophical perspective?

The main purposes of this article are: (1) to critique, both empirically and philosophically, the value of predicting future talent in sport using psychological measures, and (2) to offer suggested directions for enhancing the processes of TD/TID, and talent development (TDV). The existing evidence suggests that the use of psychological inventories to predict future success and achievement in elite-level competitive sport lacks validity and proper ethics. The review will include the following: (1) defining important concepts, such as talent detection, also called talent identification, (2) providing empirical arguments in favor of TD programs, (3) making a case against the use of psychological measures in TD programs, (4) examining the philosophical arguments against the use of psychological measures in TD programs, and finally, (5) providing recommendations and guidelines for initiating talent development programs in sport.

Defining Terms and Concepts

Brown (2001) and St-Aubin and Sidney (1996) have defined TD as the methodological process of predicting sport performance over various periods of time by obtaining information on the prospects' physical, physiological, and technical abilities, either alone or in combination, with measures of psychological aptitudes. TD has also been described as a process by which children are encouraged to participate in the sports in which they are most likely to succeed, based on the results of testing selected parameters (Bompa, 1999). Woodman (1985) defined TD programs (in Australia) as "the screening of young athletes to determine those most likely to succeed in sport and directing them towards the sports to which they are most suited" (p. 49).

To Hahn and Tumilty (1989), TD programs consist of the selection of individuals who have shown to have the characteristics important for success at the highest levels of a particular sport. Durand-Bush and Salmela (2001) contend that TD programs reflect the attempt to match various performer characteristics--innate, learned, or due to training - with task demands of a given sport, to ensure the highest probability of maximum performance outcome. Williams and Reilly (2000) define TD as the discovery of potential performers who are currently not involved in any sport program. Finally, Lidor, Cote, and Hackfort (2009) use the term talent identification as "the process of recognizing individuals currently involved in sport with the potential to become elite athletes/players" (p. …