By Dr. Kristen Dieffenbach, PCG Master Coach
In cycling, as in most sports, talent is typically thought of as a special natural ability or aptitude. While this is technically an accurate definition of the word, this definition alone is over emphasized and extremely limiting when pursuing peak potential. The concept of talent unfortunately comes with many inaccurate assumptions, such as that you either have it or you don’t, or that talent shows itself early. These types of viewpoints hold athletes back and provide little direction or understanding for parents and coaches seeking to help athletes discover, develop, and enjoy their talents.
Over the past fifteen to twenty years, researchers and educators have sought to better define and understand talent, and more specifically the process of talent development across many domains of human achievement, from math and science to music and sport. I’ve listed below the key concepts influencing current thinking and the best practices for talent development. Below that is a starter list of valuable resources for anyone interested in helping develop talent.
Key Talent and Talent Development Concepts
- The foundational point in the understanding of how talent develops and how to best facilitate its development requires a shift in how the concept of talent is viewed. It is best to view individual talent as the individual’s capacity for achievement or success.
- Talent is a growth concept, not an all-or-nothing concept. An individual’s true capacity cannot be fully understood in the early stages, particularly if the athlete has not yet fully developed. It might be said that talent can only really be assessed in hindsight.
- True development of talent occurs only over time and with intentional planning. Development of long-term talent potential should always take precedence over short-term gains.
- There is a genetic component to physical talent potential, so as the saying goes, “choose your parents well.” However, studies indicate that good genes alone do not make a champion. In fact, most elite performers will quickly point out that they are not the most talented; their achievements took time, dedication, and effort.
- Deliberate practice has become a central concept in talent development. Current theories of deliberate practice highlight the importance of a “10,000 hours, 10 years” timeline of intentional, well-planned, and individualized development.
- Sustainable talent development best occurs when it addresses multiple valuable areas of growth, including physical, skill, psychological, cognitive, and emotional.
- Training for talent development must be tailored to be training level (time spent training) and be individually age appropriate, keeping in mind that these thing are often not synonymous with chronological age.
- While elite performance may be the ultimate goal, talent development is most effective when it focuses on providing the individual with an opportunity to focus on and develop the skills necessary for personal growth and success rather than on winning.
- Talent development isn’t only for the young. Everyone has the potential for improvement, regardless of age or beginning ability level, and the concepts of talent development can be applied regardless of where an individual is beginning.
Top Resources for Talent Development
The Long-Term Athlete Development model and resources from Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) was developed by researchers and educators drawing on research across a broad spectrum of physical, psychological, and social development sciences. Currently the LTAD model provides one of the most comprehensive and user friendly models of talent development, designed to build foundational healthy movement skills, positive lifetime activity habits, and to maximize the potential for true talent development.
On the LTAD website, visit the Learn CS4L - LTAD page for a wealth of resources for coaches, parents, educators, and others about applied talent development. Numerous free downloads in PDF format can be found in the different sections under the “View Resources” dropdown menu. This section provides many key resources such as:
- The Canadian Sport for Life Resource Paper
- The Role of Monitoring Growth in LTAD
- Competition is a Good Servant but a Poor Master
For individuals working with athletes with disabilities, be sure to check out the papers “No Accidental Champions” and “Training Athletes with a Physical Disability,” both based on the LTAD model.
The LTAD Sport Models page (under “View Resources”) provides specific adaptations of the LTAD model by sport organization. Of special interest to us is the cycling-specific model.
Books on Talent Development Worth Reading
Developing Talent in Young People by Benjamin Bloom. Dr. Bloom’s book has had a major influence on the current thinking and theories of talent development. This work is based on the talent development journeys of 120 talented individuals across many domains and provides key summary best practices for the process.
Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle. Published in 2009, Coyle uses engaging stories of elite achievers to explore how talent is developed. Key themes center on master coaching, motivation, and practice.
Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers From Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. In this top 2010 book, reporter Colvin examines talent development using the latest theories on the value of deliberate practice and the role it plays in achieving top performance.
Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kevin Rathunde, and Samuel Whalen. This book profiles a long-term study that examined the day-to-day experiences of teenagers identified as having aptitude across domains. It provides insight into the things that helped and hindered their efforts, motivation, and opportunities to develop their talents.