The importance of psychological characteristics as positive precursors of talent development is acknowledged in literature. Unfortunately, there has been little consideration of the “darker” side of the human psyche. It may be that an inappropriate emphasis on positive characteristics may limit progress. Negative characteristics may also imply derailment or the potential for problems. A comprehensive evaluation of developing performers should cater for positive dual effect and negative characteristics so that these may be exploited and moderated appropriately. An integrated and dynamic system, with a holistic integration of clinical and sport psychology, is offered as an essential element of development systems.
Profiling, Exploiting, and Countering Psychological Characteristics in Talent Identification and Development
Áine MacNamara and Dave Collins
Psychobehaviorally Based Features of Effective Talent Development in Rugby Union: A Coach’s Perspective
Andy Hill, Áine MacNamara, and Dave Collins
Talent development (TD) is widely recognized as a nonlinear and dynamic process, with psychology a key determinant of long-term success in sport. However, given the role that positive characteristics play in the TD process, there is a relative dearth of research examining the psychological characteristics that may derail development. A retrospective qualitative investigation was conducted with academy coaches and directors within rugby union (n = 15), representing nine different elite English rugby union academies, to identify both positive and negative issues that influenced TD. Comprehensive support was found for existing positive constructs as facilitators of effective development. A range of inappropriately applied ‘positive’ characteristics were identified as having a negative impact on development. Potential clinical issues were also recognized by coaches as talent derailers. It is proposed that by incorporating these potentially negative factors into existing formative assessment tools, a more effective development process can be achieved.
Coaching on the Talent Pathway: Understanding the Influence of Developmental Experiences on Coaching Philosophy
Graham G. Williams and Áine MacNamara
There is compelling evidence supporting the critical role of high-quality coaching practice in supporting talented youth athletes through and beyond the talent pathway. The purpose of this study was to explore the coaching philosophies of ex-talent pathway athletes and how the meaning and purpose of their coaching in a talent pathway was influenced by their previous pathway experience. Nine participants were purposefully sampled based on their prior involvement as a youth athlete in a talent pathway and current involvement coaching in a talent pathway. The participants identified how their pathway experience influenced their coaching philosophy and applied coaching practice. Specifically, the participants described how their own youth sport experience influenced their current coaching practice through the formation of a developmental coaching philosophy, through their applied coaching practice orientated towards supporting individual development, and by using their previous pathway experience to support coaching success. These findings suggest that the philosophy underpinning talent pathway coaches’ practice was influenced by their own pathway experience, and the purpose of their practice was orientated to positively impact youth development for and beyond sport. Thus, talent pathways in sport have the capability to be recognised as positively influencing the developmental experiences of future coaching practitioners.
The Role of Psychological Characteristics in Facilitating the Pathway to Elite Performance Part 1: Identifying Mental Skills and Behaviors
Áine MacNamara, Angela Button, and Dave Collins
Given the complexity of the talent development process, it seems likely that a range of psychological factors underpin an athlete’s ability to translate potential into top-class performance. Therefore, the purpose of part one of this two-part investigation was to explore the attributes that facilitate the successful development of athletes from initial involvement to achieving and maintaining world-class status. Seven elite athletes and a parent of each of these athletes were interviewed regarding their own (their son’s/daughter’s) development in sport. Data were content analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Although sporting achievement was conceptualized as being multidimensional, psychological factors were highlighted as the key determinants of those who emerged as talented and maintained excellence. Accordingly, we suggest that talent identification and development programs should place greater emphasis on the advancement and application of psychological behaviors at an early stage to optimize both the development and performance of athletes.
The Role of Psychological Characteristics in Facilitating the Pathway to Elite Performance Part 2: Examining Environmental and Stage-Related Differences in Skills and Behaviors
Áine MacNamara, Angela Button, and Dave Collins
MacNamara, Button, & Collins (under review) proposed that if individuals are to fulfill their potential they must possess and systematically develop a specific set of skills (termed Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence or PCDEs) that allow them to interact effectively with the developmental opportunities they are afforded. Given the complexity of the developmental pathway, it may well be that different skills are needed at different stages of development and across different performance domains. Twenty-four elite participants from team sports, individual sports, and music were purposefully sampled from different domains and interviewed on their experiences of their own pathways to excellence. Results suggested that although PCDEs were important throughout development, the manner by which they were deployed depended on stage, domain, and the characteristics of the individual performer. These findings support proposals to systematically incorporate PCDEs into TID practices because these may be the key feature in maintaining progress toward excellence.
“Opinion and Fact, Perspective and Truth”: Seeking Truthfulness and Integrity in Coaching and Coach Education
John Stoszkowski, Áine MacNamara, Dave Collins, and Aran Hodgkinson
Recent developments have seen a growth in coaching, with an associated boom in interest on how it may be optimised. Clearly, the authors applaud this evolution. This growth has been parallelled by an explosion in the availability of information, driven through Internet access and the phenomenon of social media. Unfortunately, however, this juxtaposition of interest and availability has not been matched by the application or exercise of effective quality control. While much of what is available is well intentioned, a tendency for poor quality and possibly less positively targeted “bullshit” has also arisen. In this insights paper, the authors have considered some of the reasons why and argued that an emphasis on the development of critical and analytical thinking, as well as a scepticism towards the sources of information, would be a positive step against coach susceptibility to bullshit. In doing so, and to encourage more critical consumption of the “knowledge” available, the authors presented a checklist to help coaches assess the veracity of claims and sift through the noise of the coaching landscape.
Supporting Young Elite Athletes With Mental Health Issues: Coaches’ Experience and Their Perceived Role
Florence Lebrun, Àine MacNamara, Dave Collins, and Sheelagh Rodgers
This study explored talent-development coaches’ experiences of athletes having faced mental health issues (MHIs). A second objective was to allow participants to share their opinion on how sport environments could improve the support offered to coaches and athletes encountering MHIs. A thematic analysis was performed on 11 verbatim-transcribed interviews conducted with UK-based talent-development coaches. While monitoring and supporting their athletes’ performance and well-being were viewed as day-to-day practice, dealing with MHIs was, however, not considered part of their role for a variety of reasons. Findings also suggest that coaches need more suitable and context-specific knowledge and tools to appropriately respond to and support their athletes. Generating a better understanding of coaches’ perceived role, knowledge, and needs to adequately support their athletes suffering from MHIs is crucial for the design of sport-specific interventions and for the athletes themselves.
Elite Athletes Coping With Depression: A Qualitative Study
Florence Lebrun, Áine MacNamara, Dave Collins, and Sheelagh Rodgers
Little is known about the coping strategies used by elite athletes suffering from mental health issues. Therefore, this study examined coping strategies implemented by elite athletes facing clinical depression. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four elite athletes and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Results present a broad picture of how elite athletes tried to cope with depression using a range of coping strategies. Among the different strategies highlighted, talking, seeking professional help and social support were particularly emphasized by the participants. Surprisingly, however, only one participant reported transferring the skills and strategies learned on her way to the top to many other aspects of her everyday life such as coping with her depression. Findings, therefore, suggest that athletes should be encouraged to transfer and make the most of the skills learned throughout their sport career to deal with their daily life. Future research perspectives and implications are discussed.