Early Specialization and Critical Periods in Acquiring Expertise: A Comparison of Traditional Versus Detection Talent Identification in Team GB Cycling at London 2012

in Journal of Motor Learning and Development
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  • 1 Brunel University London
  • | 2 London School of Economics
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The aim of this study was to compare two methodologies employed by the British Cycling talent identification program. Specifically, the authors investigated cyclists selected to represent GB cycling team at the London 2012 Olympics using (a) a traditional talent identification methodology (British Cycling Olympic Development Program), where selection is based upon race results and (b) a detection talent identification methodology (U.K. Sport Talent Team Program), which is a multi-Olympic event initiative that identifies athletic potential from physical and skill-based tests. To facilitate this comparison, the authors calculated the speed with which expertise was acquired. A Mann–Whitney U test (U = 16.0, p = .031) indicated that the speed of acquiring expertise was quicker in detection talent identification (Mdn = 5.4) than traditional talent identification (Mdn = 7.2). Practice started later with detection talent identification than with traditional talent identification (14.12 years vs. 11.23 years, respectively), which affected the period to excellence. Thus, detection talent identification resulted in an absence of early specialization, which suggests a critical period for attaining cycling expertise. The authors hypothesize a genetic basis of talent and propose that critical periods are important in detection talent identification programs.

Staff and Parton are with the Department of Life Sciences, Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, College of Health and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, Uxbridge, United Kingdom. Gobet is with The Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics, London, United Kingdom.

Staff (toby.staff@brunel.ac.uk) is corresponding author.
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