Athlete Pathways and Development

Athlete Pathways and Development  
Prepared by  Prepared by: Don Cameron and Courtney Porter, Athlete Pathways and Development, AIS (January 2017)
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Juanita Weissensteiner, Head of Athlete Pathways and Development, AIS (January 2017)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated: 4 July 2017
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An athlete pathway spans the entire continuum of athletic development – from initiation of fundamental movement and participation in physical activity through to lifelong engagement and proficiency at a senior, elite, and/or international level.

A challenge for national and international sporting agencies and organisations is deciding which framework or model they should subscribe to, to effectively guide and inform the development and support of their sport participants and athletes. 

Key Messages 


An athlete development pathway describes a continuum that begins early in life with the acquisition of movement skills through to lifelong engagement and proficiency at senior levels.


Athlete development pathways are fluid; participants enter, leave, progress, or remain at a particular stage according to their ability, maturation, interest, opportunities, personal circumstances, and goals.


Sport organisations can identify preferred development pathways in their own sport, and then build programs and implement strategies to encourage participation and promote excellence.

Based on over 30 years of practical learning gained from within the Australian sporting system and a substantial review of existing frameworks, models, and concepts, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) developed the FTEM Athlete Development framework (Foundation Talent Elite Mastery). The framework offers an evidence based and practical  approach for facilitating the three key outcomes of sport: active lifestyle; life-long recreational sport participation; and high performance [source: Weissensteiner, 2016 (in press); Gulbin et al., 2013; Gulbin & Weissensteiner, 2013]. 

Developed through a dedicated action research approach, the FTEM Framework overcomes limitations of previous athlete development models by providing a holistic and multidimensional approach to athletic development. It is non-linear and flexible, accommodating multiple re-entry and exit points and is devoid of fixed age boundaries, allowing broad flexibility and adaptability to all sports [source: Weissensteiner, 2016 (in press)].

The FTEM framework is utilised extensively across the Australian sporting sector and has been adopted by numerous National Sporting Organisations, directly informing the review and refinement of their athlete pathways. The ‘best practice’ principles have also provided guidance to support current Australian Sports Commission (ASC) school-based and parental engagement initiatives, notably the Federal Government ‘Sporting Schools’ initiative and an online parental resource, Top Ten Tips for Parents, which was launched in June 2015. 

Within the recent International Olympic Committee’s consensus statement on youth athletic development, FTEM was recognised as an exemplar athlete development framework [source: Bergeron et al., 2015].

In this portfolio information and evidence which is informing ‘best practice’ specific to the Foundational (F phases), Talent or Pre-elite (T phases) and Elite and Mastery (E and M phases) can be accessed via the interactive diagram following this introduction.

Other frameworks, models, and concepts that provide insight into athlete development are also presented.

Foundation Talent Elite Mastery (FTEM) Framework

FTEM provides a practical tool to assist sporting stakeholders (NSOs and their personnel, coaches, teachers, parents etc.) in reviewing, planning and supporting athlete pathways.

The framework consists of three macro phases of athlete development, Foundation, Talent, and Elite/Mastery which are further differentiated into 10 micro phases:

F3_singleF2_singleF1_singleFoundation Phases – Early sporting experiences 

F1 – Learning/re-learning and acquisition of basic movement

F2 – Extension and refinement of movement

F3 – Commitment to sport and/or active lifestyle 


In this framework, the F phases are associated with the early development, refinement, and expression of the foundations of movement, leading to life-long physical literacy. Physical literacy is deemed to be a critical pre-cursor for the three key outcomes of sport, active lifestyle, recreation, and high performance and has been recognised as a key strategic pillar and ‘platform’ for enduring success of sporting systems . The reference to “re-learning” applies to children/adults with an acquired disability. For more information on the foundation phases of the FTEM framework and related best practice, please see the ‘F’ phases on the depiction below.

T4_singleT3_singleT2_singleT1_singleTalent Phases – Demonstrable talent and achievement of pre-elite athletes 

T1 –  Demonstration of potential

T2 – Talent verification 

T3 – Practicing & achieving

T4 – Breakthrough & reward


Strategically, the function of these four complementary and sequential phases, is to maximise a pre-elite athlete’s talent potential and their subsequent conversion to elite status while minimising dropout or underachievement. 

For more information on the talent phases of the FTEM framework, please see the ‘T’ phases on the depiction below.

M1_singleE2_singleE1_singleElite and Mastery Phases

E1 – Senior elite representation 

E2 – Senior elite success

M1 Sustained elite success

The E1 phase represents achievement of an elite athlete status through selection and representation at the highest senior levels of international or professional sport. The E2 phase represents achievement of medal-winning performances at peak competitions such as world championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games, world cups, or relevant professional league accolades. Mastery athletes achieve sustained success at E2 by repeating their wins or relevant accolades over multiple high performance cycles (> four years). For more information on the elite and mastery phases of the FTEM framework, please see the relevant sections on the depiction below.


  • 'Children's involvement in sport: A developmental perspective’, Côté J and Hay J, p484-502, In Psychological Foundations of Sport, Silva J and Stevens D (Editors), Allyn and Bacon publishing, Boston MA (2002).
  • Comparative Elite Sport Development: systems, structures and public policy (PDF PDF document - 1.1 MB), Houlihan B and Green N (Editors), Elsevire, Oxford, UK (2008). This book looks at how nine countries (China, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Singapore, and the United states) structure their elite athlete development pathways and systems. The theory of convergence (i.e. countries tend to do the same things) is tested and differences among systems are discussed.
  • ‘From play to practice: A Developmental Framework for the acquisition of expertise in team sports’, Cote J, Barker J and Abernethy B, In Expert Performance in Sport: Advances in Research on Sport Expertise, Starkes J and Ericsson K (Editors), Human Kinetics publications, Champaign IL (2003).
  • Functional sport expertise systems, Gulbin J and Weissensteiner J, In Developing sport expertise – Researchers and coaches put theory into practice (2nd ed.), Farrow D, Baker J and MacMahon C (Editors), Routledge, New York, p45-67 (2013). This chapter refers to the 3DAD model; a dynamic, multidimensional and integrated model of athlete development. It is grounded on an extensive critique of existing models andaccrued practical learnings and will be validated to a sport and sub-discipline specific level, with subsequent athlete pathway & development research initiatives.
  • Managing high performance sportSotiriadou P and De Bosscher V (Editors), Routledge, New York (2012). 
  • 'Applying talent identification programs at a system wide level: The evolution of Australia's national program', Gulbin  J, In Talent identification and development in sport: International perspectives, Baker J, Cobley S and Schorer J (Editors), Routledge, New York, p147–165 (2011).
  • 'Symptoms of a crisis-transition: A grounded theory study', Stambulova N, In SIPF Yearbook 2003, Hassmen N (Editor) pp. 97-109 (2003). 
  • The Sports Gene: inside the science of extraordinary athletic performance. David Epstein, USA, (2013)


  • A look through the rear view mirror: Developmental experiences and insights of high performance athletes (PDF PDF document - 836 KB), Gulbin J, Oldenziel K, Weissensteiner J and Gagne F, Talent Development & Excellence, Volume 2, Number 2 (2010). In this study a large pool of high performance athletes with established sports talent competencies were asked to look back on the experiences of their athletic development and provide additional insights which could help refine talent development pathways for the next generation of athletes. The aim was to capture and chronicle a plausible and generalisable account of talent development. The findings revealed a number of commonalities and some interesting differences dependant on sport type across the cohort. Consistent with other multi-disciplinary studies, it was found that progression to an elite level of competition is multi-factorial, requiring a favourable synchronisation of extrinsic and contextual factors, a vast investment in practice, high quality coaching, positive chance factors, intrinsic factors (i.e. strong motivation and passion for the sport), and resilience to adverse overcomes.
  • An examination of the stakeholders and elite athlete development pathways in tennis, Brouwers J, Sotiriadou P and De Bosscher V, European Sport Management Quarterly, Volume 15, Issue 4 (2015). Data from 18 semi-structured in-depth interviews with international tennis experts were thematically analysed to explore stakeholder involvement and how their interactions and strategies shape elite tennis pathways. The findings offer empirical evidence on the roles of stakeholders and their support to players in shaping development pathways in tennis. The shift in stakeholder dynamics and variation in their roles and relationships suggests that stakeholders can have different levels of involvement depending on the developmental stage of the athlete.
  • Annual age-grouping and athlete development: A meta-analytical review of relative age effects in sport (PDF PDF document - 163 KB), Cobley S, Baker J, Wattie N and McKinna J, Sports Medicine, Volume 39, Number 3 (2009). Annual age-grouping is a common organisational strategy in sport. However, it appears to promote relative age effects (RAEs). This article provides a meta-analytical review of RAEs, aimed to collectively determine the overall prevalence and strength of RAEs across and within sports, and identify moderator variables. A total of 38 studies, spanning 1984–2007, containing 253 independent samples across 14 sports and 16 countries were re-examined and included in a single analysis. Sports context involving adolescent (aged 15–18 years) males, at the representative (i.e. regional and national) level in highly popular sports (basketball, soccer, and ice hockey) appear most at risk to RAE inequalities.
  • The attraction, retention/transition, and nurturing process of sport development: Some Australian evidence, Sotiriadou K, Shilbury D and Quick S, Journal of Sport Management, Volume 22, Number 3 (2008). The purpose of this study was to explore and map the sport development processes in Australia, before and after the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Reports from 35 National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) were examined over a four year period. Sport development is a process whereby effective opportunities, processes, systems, and structures are set up to enable individuals or groups to improve their performance. The sport development processes cater to different sport development segments (e.g., young, indigenous, female participants), but share two important attributes: (1) they require pathways to allow and facilitate movement between processes, and; (2) each process generates opportunities for the creation of different pathways. In this context, a pathway is the outcome of one process. The relationship between stakeholders, strategies, processes, and pathways is reciprocal. For example, stakeholders formulate different strategies to target each process and each process requires different strategies. The three processes – attraction, retention/transition, and nurturing – work better if considered together, rather than in isolation.
  • Child, family and environmental correlates of children’s motor skill proficiency, Barnett L, Hinkley T, Okely A and Salmon J, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 16, Issue 4 (2013). Australian preschool-aged children (average age 4 years, N = 76) were recruited in 2009 as part of a larger study. Data was gathered for age, sex, parent perception of child skill, and participation in unstructured and structured physical activity. Parents also reported on their own confidence and skill to support their child’s activity and the child’s exposure to environmental factors (visits to play space, equipment at home, etc.). Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and motor skills (Test of Gross Motor Development) were assessed. After age adjustment, a number of variables were positively association with object control and locomotor scores. However, only age and time spent in MVPA were statistically significant factors. Motor skill correlates appear to be context specific.
  • Factors affecting the rate of athlete development from novice to senior elite: how applicable is the 10-year rule? Oldenziel K, Gagne F and Gulbin J (abstract) presented at the Pre-Olympic Congress: Sports Science through the Ages, Athens (6–11 August 2004). A retrospective survey explored the key catalysts affecting athletes’ developmental progression at well-defined competition phases. Data was extracted from the National Athlete Development Survey and limited to those athletes who have represented Australia at either a senior or junior (≤ 23 years) level of competition; 459 athletes (mean age 20.8 years) from 34 different sports were evaluated. The average period of development from novice to senior national representation was 7.5±4.1 years, although 28% developed ‘quickly’ (≤4 years) and 30% ‘slowly’ (≥10 years). Those making the transition from national junior representation to senior representation required, on average, 2.7±2.1 years.
  • Factors that impact on athlete development within a talent detection program (PDF PDF document - 54 KB), Morley E, Gulbin J, Weissensteiner J and MacMahon C, European College of Sport Science Conference, Bruges, Belgium (July 2012). The aim of this study was to examine the characteristics of a successful talent detection and development (TDD) program and to investigate why some talent detection athletes transition successfully into high performance sport, while others do not. A case study approach was adopted using talent detected flatwater kayakers, interviews and questionnaires were completed by 14 athletes and 4 coaches. Coaches emphasised the importance of athletes’ natural ability, intrapersonal characteristics including determination and ‘coachability’, and environmental and process factors such as the importance of early and ongoing success and a satisfying social setting. Successful athletes attributed their achievements to environmental provisions such as quality training programs and international competition, influential others including parents and coaches, and intrapersonal factors such as motivation and perseverance. The impact of poor injury management, competing priorities, performance plateaus, and ambiguous expectations were highlighted as consequential by underachieving athletes.
  • Familial, social, and environmental factors in the development of elite Australian cricketers. Multidimensional antecedents for expertise: Findings from a developmental survey in cricket (PDF PDF document - 16 KB), MacMahon C and Weissensteiner J, European College of Sport Science Conference, Barcelona, Spain (June 2013). This study used a large-scale online survey to collect information on player development in Australian cricketers. The analysis presents data for the elite male cohort, between the ages of 17 and 35 (N = 81). The findings from this study demonstrate the breadth of support (sources and type) required to complement the development of elite athletes. While receiving strong support from multiple sources, these elite performers took ownership, sought better developmental opportunities and were relatively autonomous in their decision making specific to their career planning/strategy.
  • Following in their footsteps? Sport expertise and parental participation in sport and physical activity (abstract), Hopwood M, MacMahon C, Baker J and Farrow D, North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii (June 2012). Although associations between parent's and children's participation in physical activity have been explored, little is known about the associations between parent participation in sport and the development of sport expertise by their children. This study found significant associations between skill level and parental involvement in general fitness activities, recreational sport, and competitive sport. Parents of elite athletes participated in these activities more regularly than parents of non-elite athletes. These results support previous research highlighting the importance of the family for the development of sport expertise.
  • Fundamental Movement Skills in children and adolescents: Review of associated health benefits, Lubans D, Morgan P, Cliff D, Barnett L and Okely A, Sports Medicine, Volume 40, Number 12 (2010). The rationale for promoting the development of fundamental movement skills (FMS) in childhood relies on the existence of evidence on the current or future benefits associated with the acquisition of FMS proficiency. This systematic review examines the relationship between FMS competency and potential benefits in children and adolescents. Benefits were defined in terms of psychological, physiological and behavioural outcomes.
  • Getting the fundamentals of movement: A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of motor skill interventions in children (abstract), Logan S, Robinson L, Wilson A and Lucas W, Child Care, Health and Development, Volume 38, Issue 3 (2012). The development of fundamental movement skills (FMS) has been associated with positive health-related outcomes, but children do not develop FMS naturally through maturational processes. These skills need to be learned, practised and reinforced; therefore, intervention strategies that facilitate FMS development are required. This review of literature concluded that motor skill interventions are effective in improving FMS in children. The authors recommend that early childhood education centres should implement movement programs as a strategy to promote FMS development early in life.
  • The importance of self-regulatory skills during junior to senior transition in Australian tennis (PDF PDF document - 16 KB), Mathews A, Farrow D, MacMahon C and Weissensteiner J, International Congress of Sport Psychology (ISSP), Beijing, China (July 2013). Self-regulation or the extent to which learners exert control over their own learning to master a specific task and improve their performance is a key psychological discriminator between successful and unsuccessful athletes. This study utilised evidence sourced from semi-structured interviews with retired elite Australian tennis players.
  • Improving the identification & development of Australia’s sporting talent (PDF PDF document - 2.4 MB), Toohey K, Funk D, Woolcock G, MacMahon C, Hahn A, Auld C, Farrow D, Bauman A, Weissensteiner J and Gulbin J, Australian Research Council Linkage Project, LP1001000324 (April 2015). This study aimed to identify and analyse the individual, combined and interactive effects of athlete, environmental and system determinants of talented athlete identification, confirmation and development (TID) in Australia. The research team investigated environmental, psychological, socio-cultural and developmental attributes previously overlooked in research specific to athlete recruitment and development. Findings from this research project provide sport organisations with strong evidence to help them refine their TID strategies, resource provision, and program design. This research represents a significant step towards a more detailed and nuanced understanding of sport participation and pre-elite development than has previously been undertaken in the Australian context.
  • The influence of the family in the development of talent in sport, Cote J, The Sport Psychologist, Volume 13 (1999). The author used in-depth interviews on athletes and parents to identify the dynamics of families of talented athletes. Results permitted the identification of three phases of participation from early childhood to late adolescence: (1) the sampling years; (2) the specialising years, and; (3) the investment years. Family dynamics during each of these phases are discussed.
  • Long-term athletic development- part 1: a pathway for all youth (PDF PDF document - 806 KB), Lloyd R, Oliver J, Faigenbaum A, et. al., Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 29, Number 5 (2015). Within this 2-part commentary, Part 1 provides a critical review of existing models of practice for long-term athletic development and introduces a composite youth development model that includes the integration of talent, psychosocial and physical development across maturation. Part 2 identifies limiting factors that may restrict the success of such models and offers potential solutions. The concept of developing talent and athleticism in youth is the goal of many sports systems. Consequently, sporting organisations have adopted long-term athletic development models in an attempt to provide a structured approach to the training of youth. Maximising sporting talent and maintaining long-term participation in sport are important goals of development models. This article proposes a composite model that attempts to integrate the philosophies of talent, physical, and psychosocial development. As with all other models, the Composite Youth Development (CYD) model should be viewed as a flexible blueprint as opposed to a rigid structure, from which coaches can promote a holistic approach to the development of all youth (not just the most talented). Practitioners should ensure that youth are provided with individualised programs that enable development commensurate with their specific needs. It is also important to emphasise a lifetime engagement approach to sports participation and physical activity.
  • Long-term athletic development, part 2: barriers to success and potential solutions, (PDF PDF document - 369 KB), Lloyd R, Oliver J, Faigenbaum A, et. al., Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 29, Number 5 (2015). Irrespective of the model that is adopted by practitioners, there are potential barriers to the success of any developmental pathway. The second part of this commentary highlights common issues that are likely to impede the success of long-term athletic development programs. The authors propose solutions that will address the negative impact of being physically inactive. Recommendations for reducing physical inactivity among youth include: (1) starting early in life, all children should be encouraged to be active and accumulate the recommended amount of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity through play, active transport, recreation, physical education, and sport; (2) fundamental movement skills should serve as the foundation for all youth development programs; (3) practitioners need to value both health and skill related components of physical activity, as well as the psychosocial benefits, and; (4) participation in physical activity should not begin with sports practice and competition, but rather evolve out of general preparatory skill acquisition and physical conditioning.
  • Motor skill interventions to improve fundamental movement skills of preschoolers with developmental delay (PDF PDF document - 309 KB), Kirk M and Rhodes R, Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, Volume 28, (2011). Preschool age children with developmental delay (DD) are at risk of poor fundamental movement skills (FMS). This review looked at 11 studies that based intervention programs on locomotor skill and/or object-control outcomes. Interventions provided between 540 and 1700 minutes of instruction. Nine of the 11 studies found a large intervention effect to improve FMS of preschool children with DD. The authors recommend that both parents and teachers should be involved in the delivery of these intervention programs.
  • New genetic model for predicting phenotype traits in sports (abstract), Massidda M, Scorcu M and Calo C, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, Volume 9 (2014). The aim of this study was to construct a genetic model with a new algorithm for predicting athletic-performance variability based on genetic variations. The findings of this study suggest that a new model may be used to build a genotype score specific for a single key factor that is unique to each sport. To improve this model, it is essential to introduce additional genetic variants that are correlated with explosive muscle strength. The authors caution that additional research is needed to support the external validity of the data.
  • Patterns of performance development in elite athletes, Gulbin J, Weissensteiner J, Oldenziel K and Gagné F, European Journal of Sport Science, Volume 13, Number 6, p605-614 (2013). This study looked at the specific pathway trajectories and transitions experienced by 256 elite athletes across 27 sports. Data were taken from the National Athlete Development Survey conducted in Australia. The collective findings of this investigation demonstrate that, contrary to the popular pyramidal concept of athlete development, a single linear assault on expertise is rare, and that the common normative junior to senior competition transition is mostly characterised by complex oscillations featuring highly varied transitions.
  • Predicting elite endurance athlete status: A genome-wide exploration (PDF PDF document - 3.3 MB), Bouchar C, Rankinen T, Sarzynski M and Wolfarth B, Prince Faisal Bin Fahad International Prize for Arab Sport Development Researchers (2014). A total of 195,000 genomic markers were typed in each of the 315 male endurance athletes (max VO2 ≥ 75ml/kg/min) and 320 non-athlete controls (max VO2 ≤ 50ml/kg/min). Markers whose allele or genotype frequencies differ at a level of statistical significance were used to define and optimise a panel of genomic predictors of elite endurance athlete status. This research offers the potential to identify genomic markers that would allow for the early recognition of those individuals who have the greatest genetic potential to reach elite endurance athlete status. The authors believe they have identified markers that can discriminate between the low responders and the high responder for max VO2 trainability.
  • Riding the wave of an expert: A successful talent development environment in kayaking (PDF PDF document - 392 KB), Henriksen K, Stambulova N and Roessler K, The Sport Psychologist, Volume 25, Number 3 (2011). This study examines a flat-water kayak environment in Norway and its history of successfully producing top-level senior athletes from among its juniors.
  • Second chances: Investigating athletes’ experiences of talent transfer, MacNamara A and Collins D, Plos One, published online (24 November 2015). Talent transfer initiatives seek to fast-track the performance of mature athletes from one sport to another. However, there is limited evidence on the underpinning mechanisms by which success is ‘transferred’ from one sport to another. This exploratory study sought to identify the factors which successfully transferring athletes cite as facilitative. Participants identified a range of psycho-behavioural and environmental factors as key to their successful transfer of sports. Interview data were collected from seven elite, individual sport athletes (5 female, 2 male) whose mean age was 36.5 years. All participants had successfully transferred from an elite level (i.e. defined as participation at a global standard) in the donor sport to the equivalent standard in the transfer sport. Two higher order themes were found to facilitate the transfer process: (1) the talent transfer environment, and; (2) a number of individual factors that underpinned the transfer. The authors suggest that further research into the mechanisms of talent transfer is necessary to strengthen the evidence base underpinning methodologies used in talent transfer initiatives.
  • Sibling dynamics and sport expertise, Hopwood M, Farrow D, MacMahon C and Baker J, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Volume 25, Issue 5 (2015). Family members are known to be highly influential in the development of sport expertise. This investigation explored associations between sport expertise, sibling characteristics, and sibling participation in sport and physical activity. Athletes representing three skill levels provided details of sibling characteristics and participation in sport and physical activity via the Developmental History of Athletes Questionnaire. The results suggest siblings may play a key role in sport expertise development.
  • Social motivation in youth sport (PDF PDF document - 1.0 MB), Allen J, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, Volume 25 (2003). This study examined the contribution that social goal orientations and perceptions have on youth sport motivation to participate in sports. Evidence suggests that youth sport participants have concerns other than physical competence. That is, individuals’ motivation in sport may not always be related to, or explained by, a desire to demonstrate or develop physical ability. Rather, social concerns such as developing and demonstrating social connections may be equally important. The social opportunities inherent in most sports provide opportunities for individuals to develop social relationships and to feel that they are part of a group.
  • Socioeconomic status and sport participation at different developmental stages during childhood and youth: multivariate analysis using Canadian National Survey data, White P and McTeer W, Sociology of Sport Journal, Volume 29 (2012). This study examines the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and sport and physical activity involvement at different stages of childhood and adolescence in Canada. The results showed that SES was a significant predictor of sport involvement among 6–9 year-olds, but not for 10–15 year-olds. SES disparities appear to be ameliorated over time, perhaps because of the evening-out effect of sport participation opportunities offered at school. The school system offered more opportunities with fewer financial and cultural barriers to sport participation.
  • Successful talent development in track and field: considering the role of environment (PDF PDF document - 330 KB), Henriksen K, Stambulova N and Roessler K, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Volume 20, Supplement 2 (2010). This study presents an analysis of a particular athletic talent development environment within a very successful Swedish track and field club, and examines key factors behind its successful history of creating top-level athletes.
  • Talent identification and deliberate programming in skeleton: Ice novice to Winter Olympian in 14 months, Bullock N, Gulbin J, Martin D, Ross A, Holland T and Marino F, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 27, Number 4 (2009). This study looked at the quantity and quality of skeleton-specific training and competition that would enable an athlete to rapidly develop and qualify for the Australian Winter Olympic Team for the 2006 Games in Torino. Using a deliberate programming model, the athlete who eventually represented Australia did so following approximately 300 start simulations and 220 training/competition runs over a 14 month period.
  • Talent identification and development in elite youth disability sport (abstract), Houlihan B and Chapman P, Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, published online (18 January 2016). This paper examines the talent identification and development process in three youth disability sports: wheelchair basketball, boccia and tennis. The authors found that the policies and practices behind ‘disability’ sport have converged with mainstream sports.
  • Talent identification and development (TID) programs for Paralympic athletes: A cross-National comparison (PDF PDF document - 1.6 MB), Radtke S, International Paralympic Committee Seminar, Vuokatti, Finland (17 January 2011). Talent identification in sport for athletes with a disability is often left to chance. This study looks at the organisational structure of sports and TID programs for athletes with disability, in three selected countries (Canada, Great Britain, and the United States). Eight action strategies are recommended to improve talent identification: (1) cooperation with schools; (2) greater investment at the grassroots level; (3) government strategy and funding; (4) long-term planning; (5) top-down strategy to improve awareness; (6) incentive funding for National Governing Sports bodies; (7) coaching education, and; (8) equal pay for coaches and administrators working in sport for persons with disability.
  • To Be or Not to Be: An investigation into the factors affecting the development of athletes who have been identified through talent detection (abstract), Morley E, Gulbin J, Weissensteiner J and MacMahon C, North American Society for the Psychology of Sport & Physical Activity Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii (June 2012). This study examined the characteristics of a successful talent detection program and to investigate why some talent detection athletes transition successfully into high performance sport, while others do not. A case study approach was adopted using flatwater kayakers detected through the Australian National Talent Identification and Development Program.
  • Understanding adolescents’ positive and negative developmental experiences in sport (abstract), Fraser-Thomas J and Cote J, The Sport Psychologist, Volume 23 (2009). This study looked at the positive and negative developmental experiences of twenty-two competitive swimmers. Athletes suggested their sport involvement facilitated both positive developmental experiences (i.e. related to challenge, meaningful adult and peer relationships, a sense of community, and other life experiences) and some negative developmental experiences (i.e. related to poor coach relationships, negative peer influences, parent pressure, and the challenging psychological environment of competitive sport). The findings underline the important influence of personal relationships in facilitating youths’ positive developmental experiences.
  • Understanding participation in sport and physical activity among children and adults: a review of qualitative studies (PDF PDF document - 91 KB), Allender S, Cowburn G and Foster C, Health Education Research, Volume 21, Number 6 (2006). This paper systematically examines published and unpublished qualitative research studies of UK children’s and adults’ reasons for participation and non-participation in sport and physical activity. The review covers peer reviewed and gray literature from 1990 to 2004. The majority of studies cite social interaction and enjoyment as common reasons for children’s participation in sport and physical activity.


  • Australian children lack the basic movement skills to be active and healthy (PDF PDF document - 50 KB), Barnett L, Hardy L, Lubans D, Cliff D, Okely A, Hills A and Morgan P, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, published online (18 July 2013). This commentary puts forth the position that primary schools must increase children’s opportunities to learn and develop fundamental movement skills through unstructured active play, quality physical education, school sport and community-based programs. Schools are universally recognised as important institutions for the promotion of physical activity; physical education and school sport programs being potential vehicles for the promotion and provision of these opportunities.
  • Competition is a Good Servant, but a Poor Master (PDF PDF document - 849 KB), Way R and Balyi I, Canadian Sport for Life (2007). Competition is a critical issue in all sports, especially team sports. The system of competition in many sports was never properly designed; it simply ‘evolved’ on the basis of ‘tradition’, without consideration for the sport science or athlete development. This report raises a number of issues and highlights the challenges faced by sports programs in Canada, based upon current ‘best practice’ and the science of athlete development.
  • Conventional and genetic talent identification in sports: Will recent developments trace talent? (PDF PDF document - 610 KB), Breitbach S, Tug S and Simon P, Sports Medicine, Volume 44 (2014). This article provides a single review of both conventional talent identification models and those using genetic markers, elucidating the limitations of each. Both conventional and genetic testing have methodological and technical limitations, such as: test designs; the point in time of testing, and; psychological skills or traits and unknown interactions between different variables. The challenge facing conventional talent identification programs is the development of valid and reliable sport-specific test designs that also consider psycho-social, economic and many intrapersonal factors. Genetic tests determine DNA variants (polymorphisms) that are directly or indirectly associated with the disposition for sports-related physical capabilities. Genetic studies are statistical measures of the correlation with a trait, they seldom account for small (but potentially significant) gen-gene and gene-environment interactions. Human traits may demonstrate very complex developmental characteristics. As an alternative solution, sports might focus on a talent development approach; identifying the environments and conditions most suitable for widespread participation and guidance of those individuals expressing performance potential. While genetic testing may find a place as a tool for risk assessment in sport participation.
  • Eliminating the dichotomy between theory and practice in talent identification and development: Considering the role of psychology, Abbott A, and Collins D, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 22, Issue 5 (2004). This paper explores prerequisites to success in sport, and the comparative efficacy of employing these prerequisites within talent identification schemes. The authors advocate that talent identification and development schemes, while emphasising the multidimensional nature of talent, need to recognise the essential role of psychology in the ability of individuals to fulfill their sporting potential.
  • The ethics of genetically testing children for athletic potential, Camporesi S, Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, Volume 7, Number 2 (2013). The recent boom of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, aimed at measuring children’s athletic potential, is the latest wave in the ‘pre-professionalization’ of children that has characterized, especially but not exclusively, the USA in the last 15 years. In this paper, the author analyses the use of DTC genetic tests, sometimes coupled with more traditional methods of ‘talent scouting’, to assess a child’s predisposition to athletic performance. There is a discussion of the scientific evidence forming the basis of these tests. The philosophical debate centres on how parental decisions and practices impact on a child’s right to an open future, and on their developing sense of autonomy. In considering the role of sports in childhood, the author concludes that the use of DTC genetic tests to measure children’s athletic potential should be seen as a ‘wake up’ call for other problematic parental attitudes aimed at scouting and developing children’s talent.
  • The Great British Medalists Project: A review of current knowledge on the development of the world’s best sporting talent, Rees T, Hardy L, Gullich A, Abernethy B, Cotre J, Woodman T, Montgomery H, Laing S and Warr C, Sports Medicine, Volume 46, Issue 8 (2016). The literature base regarding the development of sporting talent is extensive; therefore, a clear understanding of what is known and what is thought to be true regarding the development of sporting talent is particularly challenging. The authors address this challenge by avoiding adherence to any specific model and by providing a reasoned review across three key overarching topics: (1) the performer (e.g. relative age effect, genetics, anthropometric, physiological factors, psychological skills, motivational orientations, personality traits); (2) the environment (e.g. birthplace, support from parents/family/siblings/and coaches, athlete support programs) and; (3) practice and training (e.g. volume of sport-specific practice, early specialisation versus sampling, other potential factors). Within each topic they review and calibrate evidence based upon the performance level of the samples.
  • The legacy of physical education: Influences on adult lifestyle (abstract), Shephard R and Trudeau F, Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 12, Issue 1 (2000). The potential benefits of physical education (PE) in the school curriculum can be seen in the long-term patterns of physical activity throughout life. This review of literature focuses on the long-term legacy of PE programs. Many studies have tracked physical activity level, fitness, and motor ability from childhood into later life. Fewer studies have used control groups (i.e. matched subjects not receiving PE instruction or intervention protocols). A few consistent themes emerge as a legacy of PE programs in school: (1) motivational factors acquired during childhood are the result of having fun and learning skills, and; (2) PE forms the foundation for increased physical activity in later life.
  • Nurturing sport expertise: Factors influencing the development of elite athlete, Barker J, Horton S, Robertson-Wilson J and Wall M, Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, Volume 2, Number 1 (2003). This review examines the training and environmental factors that influence the acquisition of sport expertise. Research examining the quality and quantity of training indicate that in addition to training and environmental factors, parental support, adequate coaching, and social factors are also considered determinants of sport expertise.
  • The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance (PDF PDF document - 1.3 MB), Ericsson K, Krampe R and Tesch-Roemer C., Psychological Review, Volume 100, Number 3 (1993). This article explains the theoretical framework underpinning expert performance as the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to the amount of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.
  • Speed of expertise acquisition depends upon inherited factors (PDF PDF document - 272 KB), Chassy P and Gobet F, Talent development & Excellence, Volume 2, Number 1 (2010). Studies in experimental psychology have consistently shown that expert performance correlates with the amount of domain-specific knowledge that an expert has acquired through practice. The authors review studies in neurobiology that have shown that the biological processes underlying long-term memory storage engage genetic mechanisms. The authors advance a genetic hypothesis which accounts for individual differences in the acquisition of expertise.
  • Sport readiness in children and youth, Purcell L, Paediatric Child Health, Volume 10, Number 6 (2005). Sporting activities must be developmentally appropriate for the child. Enrolling children in sports that are beyond their developmental ability can lead to frustration and early dropout. Predicting sport readiness involves the evaluation of an individual’s cognitive, social and motor development relative to the demands of the sporting activity. Sporting activities can be modified to suit the developmental level of children.
  • Sporting milestones and career progression of male Australian junior international level team sport athletes, blog, Pathways to the Podium Research Project (29 November 2011). Identifying the ages at which highly skilled athletes reach these milestones gives us an idea of the typical timescale of the ‘pathway to expertise’. This information can essentially be interpreted as a time course of career progression that has been successful for the attainment of international level sports performance, and the avoidance of burnout and dropout. This information can then be used both as a marker to assess athlete development and to design developmentally appropriate youth sport programs. A comparison of football (soccer), volleyball and basketball players showed that soccer players reach each of the team sport milestones earlier than the basketball players, who in turn reach them earlier than the volleyball players. By the time athletes reach the junior national level of competition, the age gap between the sports begins to narrow. Interestingly, athletes from all 3 sports tend to make their junior international level debut and progress through the junior international level milestones at roughly the same age.
  • Three Worlds: new directions in participant development in sport and physical activity, Collins D, Bailey R, Ford P, MacNamara A, Toms M and Pearce G, Sport, Education and Society, Volume 17, Issue 2 (2012). The authors explore the link between participation, performance sport, and elite achievement through critical consideration of key theories. They point out that perceived and actual movement competence, metacognitive skills, and the optimum bio-psycho-social balance must be nurtured and deployed within any developmental framework.
  • To sample or to specialize? Seven postulates about youth sport activities that lead to continued participation and elite performance (PDF PDF document - 154 KB), Cote J, Lidor R and Hackfort D, International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Volume 9 (2009). Several developmental models for sport participation provide a framework for different pathways of involvement in sport. In a number of sports, early sampling serves as the foundation for both elite and recreational sport participation. Early sampling is based on two main elements of childhood sport participation – involvement in various sports, and participation in deliberate play. In contrast, only a few sports use a model centred on early specialisation. Early specialisation implies a focused involvement on one sport and a large number of deliberate practice activities with the goal of improving specific sport skills and performance during childhood. This paper proposes seven postulates regarding the role that sampling and deliberate play, as opposed to specialisation and deliberate practice, have on long-term participation in sport.
  • Transfer of pattern recall skills may contribute to the development of sport expertise (PDF PDF document - 131 KB), Abernethy B, Baker J and Cote J, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 19 (2005). Superior recall of domain-specific movement patterns is well established as a defining attribute of expert performers. Many studies on the developmental histories of expert team ball-sport players suggest that learning a wide range of movement skills and player positions during the formative years may be advantageous and reduce the amount of sport-specific training needed to become an expert.
  • What do we know about early sport specialization? Not much! Barker J, Cobley S and Fraser-Thomas J, High Ability Studies, Volume 20, Number 1 (2009). While associations between early specialisation and expertise development are highlighted, much research also suggests that early specialisation is associated with a range of negative consequences affecting physical, psychological, and social development. Evidence suggests that an early diversification approach does not disadvantage athletes in acquiring expertise, and is important for the development of intrinsic motivation and skill transferability. This review has found that inadequate evidence exists to resolve the issue in favour of either a specialisation or diversification approach.
  • What does the science say about athletic development in children? (PDF PDF document - 611 KB), Project Play, U.S. Sport Policy and Research Collaborative (2013). This paper summarises the review of relevant and important literature on the topic of developing children as athletes. The paper addresses prevailing questions regarding the role of practice and play in the development of skill acquisition and expertise in sports. Experts generally agree that sport talent development is a complex, dynamic, non‐linear process, and that predicting sport talent years in advance of adulthood is very difficult. The factors that shape sport skill expertise and performance are numerous and include biological factors (e.g., genetic ability, neurological adaptations), sociological factors (e.g., luck, critical incidents, socioeconomic status, geographical location), psychological factors (e.g., motivation, emotional control, perceived competence), and educational factors (e.g., coaching, mentoring, parental support). There is research that supports an early specialisation pathway in sports where peak performance occurs during adolescence; and there is equally compelling evidence to show that early specialisation is not likely to enhance later success. Research also suggests that early sampling of many sports activities can support growth and developmental opportunities. This review also concluded that many factors impact upon motivation and enjoyment of sport and the strength of these factors may vary with age, gender, and social settings.
  • Youth sport specialization: How to manage competition and training? (abstract), Capranica L and Millard-Stafford M, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, Volume 6, Number 4 (2011). Prevailing thinking in many sports is that elite performance requires specialised early childhood skill development and high training volume. Debate continues whether children specialising early by training and competing in a single sport, have a significant advantage compared with those who sample various sports early and specialise later in adolescence. Retrospective analysis of the childhood sports history of elite performers, and numerous case studies, suggest a variety of pathways can yield elite status later in life. The evidence regarding any long-term effects of rigorous training and competitive schedules during childhood remains unclear.

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