I am not big fun of word “TALENT”. I do prefer “POTENTIAL” or LEARNING POTENTIAL”. The reason is quite simple and obvious really. Every human being got an ability to learn and grow. The only difference is, we all develop at different peace. I think most coaches understand that basic fact. We don’t need research evidence to back that up. Why then, when it comes to youth football we largely do opposite? Before I move any further, I’d like to quote Daniel Coyle and his definition of talent in strictest sense: “The possession of repeatable skills that don’t depend on physical size” (Source: “The Talent Code “Book). My question is this: Why youth academies and most of its coaches are so obsessed with physical attributes of young players? Is it bias that they not aware of and if not, what is it? Is it because is easy measurable or because is not that difficult to find? Find ones who can run faster and further, jump longer and EUREKA, you find talent!? Really? In this insight I am examine the negative consequences of favour EARLY developers with descent physical and athletic attributes and largely ignore LATE developers where potential and real potential may be hidden also. Enjoy the ride!
1. First consequence -EARLY does not mean early or better and LATE does not mean worst or LATE!
In my recent FA AYA course, we had been showing statistic about how many LATE DEVELOPERS make it or survive in the current system. It was shocking figure, only 2%!!! Is that mean 98% wasn’t good enough and what really happen to all these MASS kids? All I would say is, they probably being a victim of their own physical size, and should they? Now compare this to EARLY DEVELOPERS and the figure is not shocking at all: 60-80%. Question remain: We just assume that they are somehow better only because their physical size? How can we change that and retain more
LATE developers in current system? Firstly, we need to better understanding of human learning potential. Then we discover that an EARLY developer in physical terms actually may be LATE developer in psychological, technical-tactical and social terms. Then LATE developer in physical terms only may be EARLY developer in other areas. We can’t ignore that and we must give these kids time and opportunities to grow equally. The game does require both. Physical disadvantages will be cover by other competencies kids have. The Coaches underdog (LATE Developer) sooner or later will catch up physically with top dog (EARLY Developer). If we understand development as helping people to grow their learning potential then there is no reason not to select to early and rather retain and develop.
2. Second consequence-Negative Impact on players learning potential and learning process
When an EARLY developer train and play with the same age group majority of his training time, surely there is not enough challenge there. He finds it to easy due to his physical advantages. How often I hear from coaches this or that kid score 5 goals? What the same coaches forgot is he simply uses his physical advantage and cover his deficiencies in other areas of his/her development. Same age environment allowed that to happen. That has negative impact on that players learning potential. The road to be successful is never a smooth ride and you do need bumps and you need them often. Moving an EARLY developer higher up the ladder time to time will only benefited the kids. They suddenly will need to learn other competencies such as tech-tac and cope psychologically in environment where most kids are same physical shape. You can’t relay anymore on your physical advantages which means your need to adapt and develop other bits. Mixing age groups can be potentially good factor to help LATE developers. Suddenly they need to adapt and use their current competencies in relation to physical size of other players around them. They will learn how to use their movement better in relation to type of spaces they are in. Most importantly they will learn how to manage and use their own self-space against bigger and stronger physically players without going to too much contact with them.
3. Third consequences-negative psychological impact on young players development
Coaches often talking about physical changes that may have negative consequences on skill development. I agree with that. What we do missing perhaps is, this also have negative impact on psychological development. When kids going through maturity and growth spurts, they often show negative emotions such as frustration and anger. They also worry about their image. Before physical changes they might be seen by peers and other as top players, but now they can’t perform at the same level. This is where the danger is hidden and kids do need our support.
Consequence 4-obsession with data can potentially give false review. Do kids (both LATE and EARLY developers) need physical testing in period where they go through so much? Is it relevant really?
I find it hard to understand why we test physical capabilities in maturity and growth spurt period? This will not be measurable fully and did not really tell us where the kids are at the moment? Surely it won’t be their best results? Instead how can we use this time on the grass to support their learning potential and social, psychological and tech-tac competencies.