Talent is best described as having the potential to be a future elite athlete on the international stage. A common mistake a lot of people make when identifying talent is picking players who appear to be fitter and more technically skilled now. Research shows, in a lot of cases, these players are simply bigger and stronger because they have either matured earlier than their peers or they are the oldest within their respective age group.
A flow on from picking the bigger and stronger players is that these athletes receive more coaching and opportunities which gives them the advantage in terms of developing their skills and decision making abilities. The problem in this instance is that physical mismatches during adolescence can hide talent in those who have yet to grow and mature. This creates the relative age effect whereby late maturers have to play catch up because of fewer opportunities afforded to them.
However, when the playing field levels up in terms of physical maturity a few years later, those who were previously winning matches may find themselves eclipsed by others who have started to grow in confidence with thanks to that late injection of extra speed and strength after their growth spurt. This means that if you are looking for talent, current gradings and tournament results should not be the only gauge. Instead you should be looking for behaviours that suggests athletes could reach the top in the future.
A good starting point is to look for players who want to learn, are curious and creative, are approachable and have the drive and motivation to carry on improving. Then your next challenge is to develop them.
To read the Sport New Zealand case study on Paul Coll and how he unlocked his talent click here.