September 5


To create more senior elite champions (Olympic, World and European) there should be no national team for under 18 years.

By Vince

September 5, 2020

Athlete Development, British Judo, Judo, Judo Online, Learn Judo Online, Long Term Athlete Development, LTAD, Player Pathway, TID


I was looking over some old Uni work and came across this piece of work (please see below). I had to come up with a controversial statement (which I believed to be true), and then explain why I thought this.

After I submitted the work, I had to then ‘defend’ my point of view and take questions from members of UK Sport, British Judo and Sheffield Hallam University.

Which was a scary but really important experience for me.

I think Judo benefits from discussion and argument. We accept the phrase “it’s how I was taught” or “it’s always been done like that.” to readily.

I think for sport … ‘our’ sport to progress we need to have discussions … and you know what …. there does not need to be a winner or loser.

We just need to start talking and learning. I hope below creates some insight into my thought process, I know there are areas of bias and areas I would want to do more research around, but it’s a starting point.

Controversial Statement 

To create more senior elite champions (Olympic, World and European) there should be no national team for under 18 years. 

Opening Statement. 

I would like to illustrate the possible benefits of the devolution of the British and home nation squads at an under 18 level, which currently focus on Talent Identification in favour of building more localised and regional training centres for talent development and environment. 

Traditional Talent Identificationprogrammes still struggle to distinguish what characteristics and qualities are required to become a champion (Geron, 1978). The accuracy of early identification of exceptionally gifted children is hindered by large individual differences for example: How much sporting exposure that person has had, biological maturity (and the non linear growth it takes), family support, and genetics are to name just a few (Baxter-Jones, Goldstein, and Helms, 1993; Malina, 1994; Malina, Bouchard, and Bar-Or, 2004; Pearson, Naughton, and Tarode 2006)

Success in Judo competition involves the individual to have high levels of technical and tactical competence (Franchini, et al, 2008) as well as elevated levels of physical fitness. These factors benefit youths who are born earlier in the selection year and who are more advanced in maturation, this limits the reliability and predictability of such talent identification programs. These differences become less crucial once the participants are through maturation and later developers would ‘catch up’ with their more advanced counterparts. These points may explain the analysis from Gauthier, 2006 who over a  10 year longitudinal study analysed whether Junior World Medal winners would repeat their success in senior competitions. Only 15% of males and 10% females transitioned through to medalling at senior world championships. 

This former model should be changed to a Talent Environment model in local training centres around the country, where good practice and the athletes well being is put above anything else. Within this talent environment individuals will focus on skill mastery, sporting intelligence, understanding the necessity of ‘physical training’ and developing psychological skills for the future. Psychological characteristics have been ignored by many Long Term Athlete Development models and could possibly be a missing link within the development of youths in sport. Skills such as imagery, goal setting, dealing with victory or defeat, coping with injuries and transitioning through different stages of development need to be understood by our young athletes and the impact they have. Studies have looked at characteristics of Olympic Champions with results concluding all of these skills were present in the athletes. With difficulties in long term studies with children and youths within sport and what is ethically ok to assess and analyse we should always focus on what is best for them long term in and out of sport.

Window of opportunity in athletes
Windows of Opportunity is widely discussed with little evidence to support the notion.

Windows of opportunity 

To date, it seems that there is no evidence to support the notion that if aerobic training is not performed during such ‘window then individuals will never reach their genetic capability during adulthood (Ford et al, 2012). Ironically there is a consequence that the full potential of the individual is not achieved when early specialisation and intensive training occurs during these critical periods (Ford et al, 2012).

There is an importance of accurately evaluating and catering for growth statuses of young people has been recognised such as a crucial factor in maintaining positive development and motivation for participation in sport and/or physical activity. Peak height and weight velocity tracking may create some real world answers to these problems? 


Within this Viva Voce I would like to illustrate the possible benefits of the devolution of the British and home nation squads at an under 18 level which focus on Talent Identification in favour of building more localised and regional training centres for talent development/environment. The aim will be to increase British Judo’s chances of creating more elite senior champions (Olympic, World and European), by setting more skill based learning, less emphasis on winning at a younger age and following updated long term physical development models. 

Literature review

Although there has been a change in direction (by researchers) from talent Identification to talent development/environment (Ragnier, Salmela, and Russell, 1993; Durand-Bush, Salmela, 2001) many National Governing Bodies (NGB) still invest considerable time and money into identifying ‘gifted’ youngsters to accelerate the development process (Reilly, Williams, 2000; Williams, Reilly, 2000; Abbott, Collins, 2004). 

Talent identification (T.I.) models have based their focus on childrens’ motor performance and/or competitive success for selections to a program (Gullich and Emrich, 2006) with an emphasis on early specialisation (Ericsson 1998). This has been British Judo’s selection policy to date. Selection to all national programs (including u15 and u18) are/were being based on competitive results, physical testing and motor skills testing, even though there is growing agreement that these models are likely to ‘deselect’ many ‘promising’ children (Morris, 2000; Abbott, Collins, 2002; Abbott, Collins, 2004; Martindale, Collins, Daubney, 2005). Research shows this is especially the case in late maturing children/adolescents due to the dynamic and multidimensional nature of sport talent (Abbott and Collins, 2002, 2004; Martindale, Collins, and Daubney, 2005; Vaeyens et al, 2008). 

Talent Identification programs try to give advantages to young ‘talent’ by offering financial backing and superior coaching to a concentrated number of individuals. Unfortunately research suggests  that talented young athletes are not necessarily the individuals who have success in adulthood (Ackland, Bloomfield, 1996).

The need for physical attributes, technical skills and decision making skills cannot be totally disregarded for developing young athletes, but the focus should be on late specialisation, long term goals and skill attainment. Development-focused coaching is likely to inhibit short-term (testing) performance which would not coincide with talent identification benchmarks (Van Rossum, 2001; Falk, et al, 2004; Williams, Hodges, 2005). The culture of wanting success at an early age in sport means development-focused coaching is difficult to implement as it goes against most peoples expectations.

A development-focused training structure would require regional centres open to everyone in the area with less emphasis on selection and talent identification. The main objective of these centres would be to encourage young athletes to learn, develop and progress successfully in the future (Cote, Hay, 2002; Ericsson, 1998) with a pathway into the British team at an under 20 years and senior level. 


The controversy is scaling back the outdated national programmes in favour of setting up a regional program with little to no focus on competition results or physical ability at an under 18 age bracket. This would introduce a totally new mindset and would upset the existing Judo community, parents, coaches and young athletes alike would struggle understanding why their child/player would not be part of a national squad, whether it is England, Scotland, Wales or Great Britain. The general public and sporting community expects those that are ‘winning’ at a young age to be the focus and receive the most resource. In a development-focused program this would not necessarily be the case.

British Judo has never had an Olympic Champion and its international results pales into insignificance compared to it’s close European neighbours (France, Holland and Germany). 

Who agrees – Although there is no research which categorically says national programs should be scaled back to allow regional centres to take it’s place at an under 18 level, there are plenty of researchers who make links to the importance of late specialisation, goal attainment theory and the relative age effect in selection processes. In addition to this researchers have managed to collect data from different sport which shows a significant percentage of elite athletes (Olympic, World and European medalists) did not take part in national programmes at a young age. Other research also concluded there is no correlation between being successful as a junior and being able to transfer this success into senior competition. 

Who disagrees – Once again it is difficult to say who would outrightly disagree with this but looking at research it does not coincide with work from Ericsson et al, (1993), and Ericsson (1998) and the concept of early specialisation and the 10,000 hour rule. It also goes against the time-economic motives of talent identification and the ability to regulate training easily for the whole country. 

Key Areas of Debate – Time, Money, Tracking, Training Resources, Competition, High Profile Coaches, Scientific and Medical interventions, Linear Development, Mature age talent development, talent recycling and Current Youth Physical Development Models. 


I believe that focussing our attention on development rather than short ‘wins’ and current talent identification models for our young athletes is vital for the improvement of senior elite results. With opportunities for ‘mature age talent identification’ (giving post pubertal athletes a ‘second chance’)  and cross training in sports for ‘talent recycling’ at a younger age. Further research is needed to understand the long term benefits of multi-sport involvement and why late specialisation seems to be a common factor in successful elite athletes. Also what helps athletes with ‘natural abilities’ develop into a senior elite athlete. 


ABBOTT, A, and COLLINS, D, (2002). A theoretical and empirical analysis of a ‘state of the art’ talent identification model. High Ability Studies. 13. 157-178.

ABBOTT, A, and COLLINS, D, (2004). Eliminating the dichotomy the theory and practice in talent identification and development in sport: considering the role of psychology. Journal of Sports Science. 22. 395-408.

COTE, J, and HAY, J, (2002). Children’s involvement in sport: a developmental perspective. Psychological Foundations of Sport. 484-502.

DURAND-BUSH, N, and SALMELA, J, (2001). The development of talent in sport. Handbook of Sport Psychology. 2. 269-289.

ERICSSON, K, KRAMPE, R, and TESCH-ROMER, C, (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review. 100. 363-406.

ERICSSON, K, (1996). The road to excellence: The acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, sports and games. (ed) In print Lawrence Erlbaum Associations.

ERICSSON, K, (1998). The scientific study of expert levels of performance: general implications for optimal learning and creativity. High Ability Studies. 1. 75-100.

FALK, B, LIDOR, R, and LANDER, Y, (2004). Talent identification and early development of elite water polo player: a 2 year follow up study. Journal of Sport Science. 4. 347-355

GULLICH, A, and EMRICH, E, (2006). Evaluation of the support of young athletes in the elite sport system. European Journal for Sport and Society. 2. 85-108.

MARTINGDALE, R, COLLINS, D, and DAUBNEY, J. (2005). Talent development: a guide for practice and research within sport. Quest. 4. 353-375.

MORRIS, T (2000). Psychological characteristics and talent identification in soccer. Journal of Sport Science. 9.715-726.

REGNIER, G, SALMELA, J, and RUSSELL, S, (1993). Talent detection and development in sport. Handbook on Research on Sport Psychology. 290-313.

REILLY, T, WILLIAMS and NEVILLE, A, (2000). A multidisciplinary approach to talent identification in soccer. Journal of Sport Science. 9. 695-702. 

VAN ROSSUM, J, (2001). Talented in dance: the Bloom stage model revisited in the personal history of dance students. High Ability Studies. 2. 181-197.

VAEYENS, Roel, GULLICH, Arne, WARR, Chelsea, and PHILIPPAERTS, Renaat, (2008). Talent identification and promotion programmes of olympic athletes. Journal of Sport Sciences. 13. 1367-1380. 

WILLIAMS, A, and REILLY, T, (2000). Talent identification and development in soccer. Journal of Sport Science. 9. 657-667.

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