New book delves into science of sports stardom

A new book edited by a York University professor examines the factors that may help predict pro-sport prowess.

The book, Talent Identification and Development in Sport, (Routledge, 2011) offers an overview of current scientific research along with practical information for parents and coaches looking to spot talent and nurture it.

Joseph Baker “We’re hoping this book helps inform a better system for spotting talent early on and making the most of it,” says Joseph Baker (left), professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health. “We’ve tried to answer questions that have thus far been elusive, such as, ‘how do elite athletes develop, and when is the most appropriate time for talent identification and development interventions?’,” he says.

The book features an interdisciplinary group of contributors from sport psychology, motor learning and skill acquisition, exercise physiology and coaching. Leading researchers from the field of athlete development explain their research and how it informs our understanding of the process of sport skill acquisition. Topics include genetics and secondary factors such as birth date, cultural context and population size, perceptual motor skill acquisition and sports development policy.

Baker, who contributed a chapter on genetics, explains that performance-related genes are by no means a magic bullet for identifying natural ability.

“There are now companies that scan for performance-related genes in newborn babies. Theoretically such criteria should be able to predict an individual’s potential to become an elite athlete – or anything for that matter. The problem is that scientists aren’t sure exactly what criteria they’re looking for quite yet,” he says.

“Alongside biological realities, we must look at factors like where and when an individual grew up, cultural norms, and the sport programs and polices in place at that time. TTalent identification and development in sports posterhese variables can all have an enormous impact,” says Baker.

The volume’s latter half offers case studies examining international success stories from the “trenches” of talent identification and development, from individual sports like track & field and gymnastics, to team sports including soccer and rugby.

“Athletic prowess is commonly thought of as a combination of nurture and nature, but the interplay of these factors is quite complex,” says Baker. “Our aim was to give a state-of-the-science overview that would be accessible for parents, coaches, athletes and anyone interested in talent development.”

The book is co-edited by Steve Cobley, senior lecturer in skill acquisition and sport psychology within the Carnegie Faculty at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, and Jörg Schorer, research associate at the Institute of Sport Science at the Westfälische Wilhelms-University Münster, Germany. Baker is part of York’s Lifespan Health & Performance Laboratory and is a visiting research fellow at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK.