Talent Development by Design
By Kristen Dieffenbach
Master Level Peaks Coaching Group Coach
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In cycling, as in most sports, talent is typically thought as “a special natural ability or aptitude”. While this is technically an accurate use of the word ‘talent’, this definition alone is over emphasized and extremely limiting when pursuing peak potential. Unfortunately, the concept of ‘talent’ comes with many inaccurate assumptions such as 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 someone discover, develop and enjoy their talents.
Over the past 15 to 20 years researcher 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. Below is a list of the key concepts influencing current thinking and best practices for talent development. A starter list of valuable resources for anyone interested in helping develop talent is also provided.
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 key shift in how the concept of ‘talent’ is viewed. Best practices for developing individual talent view it as the individual “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, but that 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 year’ 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 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
Long Term Athlete Development Model and Resources from Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) www.ltad.ca
The LTAD model 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.
- From 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 that can be found in the different sections under the ‘View Resources’ dropdown menu. The ‘LTAD Resource’s section provides many key resources such as:
- The Canadian Sport for Life Resource Paper,
- The Role of Monitoring Growth in LTAD, and
- Competition is a Good Servant but a Poor Master
- For individuals working with athletes with disabilities, be sure to check out the resources No Accidental Champions and Training Athletes with a Physical Disabilities both based on the LTAD model.
- The ‘LTAD Sport Models’ section of the ‘View Resources’, provides specific adaptations of the LTAD model by sport organization. The cy.cling specific model can be found at
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 & Samuel Whalen