Category: Talent

New Paper on progressing youth to senior in Athletics

We have finally managed to get this paper accepted and published on the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. This was part of a larger study conducted with colleagues in Italy to “map” historical data of Italian Athletics and determine progressions in different athletics events to differentiate between successful and non successful adult performers by analysing the longitudinal developments of such results.
The first part of this work was published last year on PlosOne. In this recent work we focused on sprints and throws events analysing male and female progressions with more than 5000 athletes present in the Italian official results database available in FIDAL.

A total of 5929 athletes (female: n = 2977, 50.2%) were included in the study. The age of entering competition and personal best performance was identified in the official competition records. Personal best performances were ranked in percentiles and top-level athletes were considered those in the highest 4% of the performance distribution.


Overall, when controlling for the age of entering competition, top-level athletes reached their personal best later (i.e., around 23–25 years old) for all events compared to the rest of the athletes. Moreover, regression analysis showed that entering competitions later was linked to better performances during adulthood. Also, only 17%–26% [90% CI] of the top-level adult athletes were considered as such when they were 14–17 years old.


These findings and previous ones in other events also form other research groups (like this one from our Norwegian colleagues) suggest that early sport success is not a strong predictor of top-level performance at senior level. Also, gender differences may be evident in the rate of performance development in different events.

Such analyses are important to develop reference databases to assess young athletes progression and be able to avoid de-selection of late maturers.

I will speak about this approach in a talk in Aspetar in January 2019. Before then, I will write more about this on the blog as I think it is important to have a more systematic look at youth performances around the World in Athletics in order to identify trends and provide more chances to assess athletes’ progressions.


Talent…or repetitions?

I have been having few debates with colleagues on the topic of Talent and talent ID programmes. Due to the success of some talent transfers in some physical sports, there seems to be a large number of people convinced that such approach can also be successful in team sports. Needless to say I totally disagree with that. Having worked as a coach developing young athletes and as a coach of senior athletes in a team sport I can definitively say that in order to produce a World Class team you need to have the talent in the team as well as people who have done thousands of hours perfecting their skills. You just cannot change an average Basketball player in his/her 20s in a World class handball player and vice versa, you cannot identify a tall guy/girl and within 4 years turn him/her into a World class volleyball player. Why not? Simple: because no matter how physically talented they are, it is unlikely they can make up in few years for the lost time of practice as compared to people who started their sport when they were children. If you believe that nobody in 4-5 years can become as good as Lionel Messi having never played football, then you are part of my club.

I am not going to write about this issue in this post, but I promise will write more as talent id-ing is really an interesting field, and I am passionate about its proper applications at the right age group and understanding also the limitations in the possibilities of talent transfer in particular in some sports.

I have recently come across Daniel Coyle’s blog, and it is a refreshing read proving that talent alone is not enough and in many fields it is possible to reach success using a variety of training coaching methods, motivation and coaching. Most of all he talks about the importance of deliberate practice when an incredible number of repetitions are performed which allow someone to become a master in a specific field.


I have ordered the book and I am looking forward to read it, in the meantime, I am enjoying the blog which is plenty of useful examples in sports.

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Talent alone is not enough.


I just finished reading a very exciting book written by Malcom Gladwell entitled:”Outliers”.

Outliers is a provocative and inspiring book aimed at trying to explain what makes exceptionally successful people. Malcom Gladwell examines everyone, from business giants to scientific geniuses to sports stars. This very interesting book argues that the main reasons behind success in every field are:



– People life’s choices, culture and opportunities

– Practice (where he refers to Ericsson’s 10.000 hours rule of deliberate practice, click here if you want to read more about this)

– Luck (everyone needs to be in the right place at the right time)

– Cultural heritage (who do you think you are…where are your genes/experiences/values coming from?)

The conclusion is that great people are the result of an incredible talent mixed with a fortunate array of opportunities they have been given. The sports-specific consideration that Gladwell makes is related to observation of specific patterns in Canadian Hockey players. In particular, he focuses on the fact that most elite Canadian hockey players are born between January and April of any given year. Something to do with cut-offs for age-classes happening on January 1 of every year. Pretty much he discusses the fact that selection in Canadian hockey is more based on maturation. Something that he could have expanded a bit more I have to say.

Gladwell’s most interesting remark is that social forces largely explain why some people work harder when presented with exciting opportunities to succeed and improve. This is why Chinese people work very hard and American kids are raised with a fanatical devotion to meritocracy [something clearly missing in Italian kids….but this is probably material for another book!].

Most successful people have a phenomenal ability to focus their attention, they have an incredible ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses and they have incredible resilience. This is so true of champions. Champions are outliers, people with incredible skills, individuals able to see things faster and clearer than others, people able to move, jump, throw better than others. However as Muhammad Ali stated “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill”.

Sport Outliers are special people, they are the ones winning gold medals at the Olympic games, the ones winning the six nations, the World championships. The talent needs to be there, but a part from culture, luck and social forces, what kind of opportunities can Sports Science provide? In many cases, the bests sports scientists tend to work with elite senior athletes and in many sports there is no cascade/adaptation of best practice to junior athletes and coaches and support staff working with development athletes. Can sports science make a difference at a very early stage of athletic development? Also, how many talents have been lost because of poor opportunities?

Without practice, training, and the right opportunities (i.e.access to best resources/facilities/advice/coaching and sports scientists?) success in sport can only be a chance of occurrence?