In England, clubs and performance development pathways categorise players by organising players into age-banded teams.
Whether coaching in grassroots or performance pathways, your role is identifying your players' skills and developmental areas.
However, in this process, it can be all too easy to begin to highlight players which coaches feel stand out which they perceive may improve their team's likelihood of competitive success on the field. Whilst in performance pathways such as academies this may be important to find future professional players, this may not be the best route for grassroots and amateur clubs.
What is Talent Identification?
Talent identification is the process of identifying the favoured performance characteristics of players. These can be both subjective and objective.
Subjectively, scouts will watch games to identify players who stand out either from their physical attributes or from the player's ability to read the game and perform tactically.
Objectively, once players are in performance pathways, they will partake in a plethora of assessments to monitor their growth maturation (e.g., height and weight), physical performance qualities (e.g., strength, speed, and power), and cognitive performance (e.g., tactical based decision making).
What is Talent Development?
Talent development is the proper nurturing of skill development. This means more than specifically improving a single skill by practising the skill as an individual component. This means identifying the characteristics of a skill to develop the skill holistically.
Example - Developing the Rugby Tackle with young players
Traditional method - Identify that tackling needs development. Have players practice the skill of tackling either with equipment (i.e., shields and bags) or against another player before transitioning into a game-based drill.
Talent development - Identify that tackling needs development. Identify the physical qualities and tactical components of tackling. Have players perform exercises to develop the physical qualities related to tackling such as, but not limited to, strength, speed, power, and mobility. Then begin to work on transitioning those skills into skill-specific drills to develop the player's decision-making. The final step is to develop the skill of tackling itself.
Traditionally Who Benefits From These Models?
Whist commonly you will see the early maturers (typically the older players in the squad) filling the spots in academies and first for team selections at amateur clubs, research has highlighted that this does NOT increase the likelihood of those players becoming professional players.
This is because the younger players in the age grade have a longer exposure to competitive rugby against relatively older counterparts. This will naturally develop some of the physical qualities required to be a successful rugby player.
Make Talent Development Your Goal in Youth Rugby Union.
In highlighting the secret weapon of talent development which has been hidden in grassroots rugby, playing relatively older players, I hope that you can begin to see that if you can structure this into your sessions for all players it will improve the skill quality of your players.
To design a talent development plan you need to organise and plan which skills you wish to develop within your team. Once you have identified the skills, you need to map out which drills will help you improve your players in performing the skill. Now you must look beyond the sport and ask yourself what physical qualities are important to be able to perform the skill well. Once you have narrowed this down you can begin to list exercises and drills which will enhance your player's physical qualities. Thirdly, you need to think tactically, how can I improve my player's tactical understanding when performing the skill in a match situation? List all appropriate drills for this.
Now you should have headings of the components of the qualities and skills you want to improve and how to feed them back into a game situation. The final stage is to bring all these components together in your session plans. Organise these drills and exercises with complimentary drills and exercises to get the most from your players. If you have a series of skills which you aim to develop, organise them in order of how they would occur in open match play to reinforce previous weeks' coaching points as you work through.
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