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Stacy Danley on the Different Definitions of Talent

According to Stacy Danley, talent is a commonly used term and can be applied across multiple domains, including music, education, and sports. Although commonly used, definitions of talent are unclear and inconsistent, resulting in contradictions within science and society. For example, many researchers often discuss talent as an “innate ability,” but this term may have different meanings across different contexts. For instance, talent is often used to describe biological predispositions (a talent for a sport), the quality being developed (nurturing an individual’s talent), as well as the individuals themselves (athletes).

In sports settings, talent is defined as “the presence or absence of particular skills or qualities identified at earlier time points that correlate to or predict expert future performance” (Cobley et al., 2012, p3.; Issurin, 2017). Although this definition does not conform to calls for clearer definitions of talent, it mostly captures the main goal of talent identification and development systems (TIDS) – understanding the relationship between current performance (and related factors) and future potential. However, whether this is how talent is seen and applied by various stakeholders (coaches and administrators) within youth TIDS is in question. It leaves us with another important question – what does talent look like?

Unfortunately, current scientific literature has limited evidence to help answer the question above and understand how current performance-related factors reflect potential for future performance. For example, most talent identification research uses cross-sectional research designs at “one-off” time points to assess talent. These studies compare physical, psychological, technical, and anthropometric characteristics between playing levels like school vs. academy. The assumption is that the differences in characteristics between playing standards equals talent. However, these studies only measure performance at that “one-off” specific time point, disregarding how characteristics relate to potential or future performance outcomes. This approach assumes that talent is a fixed ability reflected in an individual’s performance at that specific time point. However, this is questionable, considering recent definitions of talent suggest it is emergent, dynamic, non-linear, and non-optimal (De Oliveira et al., 2014; Baker et al., 2018a). As a result, evaluating an athlete’s potential and predicting future performance within young athletes remain the main problem for all talent identification practitioners and researchers.
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Stacy Danley thinks coaches and practitioners must clearly understand what talent is and how it relates to their talent identification and development practices. For example, talent can be positioned as emergent (the process of becoming), influenced by several factors within an environment (parents and coaches), and individual (athletes with different skills and abilities require different development programs). This positioning requires a completely different approach to talent identification and development. Stacy Danley points out that talent should not be perceived as a fixed and measurable trait.

Stacy Danley is the President and CEO of SLD Sports Management Group. He served as a Division I athletic director at Alabama State University, Division II athletic director at Tuskegee University, Associate Athletic Director/Men’s Sports Coordinator at Auburn University, and Compliance Assistant at the Southeastern Conference (1995-1997). For more related articles, check out this page.

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