Sports clubs and teams are the focal point of development for both young and old athletes. The difference between good and poor can very often lead to substandard development and retention of athletes, thus inhibiting peak performance and losing life time members who turn away from the sport.
Henriksen1 conducted multiple case studies2,3,4 into talent development environments in sport and what makes them success and/ or unsuccessful. Henriksen concluded that each specific environment has eight commonalities which make them successful. This blog post will aim to break each of these eight commonalities down and show how you can introduce them into your club or team.
Commonalities of successful environments
- A Supportive Training Group
Training groups with supportive relationships are evident across each case study conducted by Henriksen. When we think of specific examples here we are often drawn to the Sunday cycling club run or long run in an athletics club throughout the off-season. It is here that many skills are learned, and knowledge is passed down from more experienced members in a relaxed, but sport specific, setting. Creation of a training group allows vicarious reinforcement to take place which effectively means we mimic or duplicate the behaviours for which others are being rewarded or we limit the behaviours for which others are being discouraged. This can range from riding a paceline on a bike effectively to timing of nutrition among many other positives all achieved with minimal coach input.
- Proximal Role Models
In a way proximal role models can be explained in a similar light to the training group. Older more experienced athletes may serve as role models for younger members or beginners in a club or team. We want to create an environment in which the athletes are open and participate in sharing of experiences both negative and positive. This leads to a trickle down of knowledge within the environment. Unfortunately, within team rivalries for selection, differing views etc. can often stunt this growth and development due to knowledge being withheld.
- Support of Goals Under Wider Environment
In Henriksen’s case studies the wider communities support the athletes and their goals, this is evident by schools being willing to facilities the athlete’s pursuit of an athletic career while balancing school work. This is achieved through clear and consistent communication between all parties involved. If this is implemented correctly it allows the athlete to excel in all areas. We may see examples of this in third level education where options are available for distance learning or part time courses. We can also relate this back to the club and team recognizing that school or work in general needs to take priority at key times also and a mutual respect is set up around this.
- Psychological Skills Support
Psychological skills training is used within these environments in an aim to develop the athlete as a “person” rather than just someone who is good at their sport. Skills such as autonomy and responsibility are emphasised. We can implement this ourselves by allowing the athletes to lead or decide a training session, reflect on competition and provide constructive peer-to-peer feedback among many other strategies.
- Training Which Allows Diversification
Early specialization is discouraged within these environments, this effectively means a mix of sports and hobbies are perused up to a later age. It has been highlighted that expert performers tend to specialize later in their adolescence5, this allows the athlete to sample multiple sports with multiple coaches which leads to them having a robust sporting profile and gaining excellence in fundamental movements all while avoiding burnout making them better athletes in the long run. When implementing this in our own teams/ clubs we should not discourage other sports being pursued, this is especially important at youth and junior levels. Within cycling you are also lucky in that the varying disciplines allows for further diversification while still being sport specific, track and field may also correlate with this in that there are varying events.
- Long-Term Development
Linking in with the above point there is a massive focus on long term athlete development in these environments. This ties in with building our fundamentals through diversification and steadily progressing up the ladder through ages brackets with activities that are relevant for the training age. One example could be exposure to competition in a developmental capacity. This can be majorly beneficial examples here include club leagues, races etc.
- Coherence in Organisational Culture
Based on Schein’s Model6 of organisational culture Henriksen proposed that each environment has specific values, artifacts and assumptions. Values coincidence with what the athletes are “told”, for example autonomy in setting up your own equipment or working with the coach to develop a plan together. Artifacts are what we observe, feel and hear. Examples of this could include stories of previous club “legends” or jerseys hanging on the clubhouse wall. Assumptions are what people take for granted in these specific environments, this could be a deep-rooted training methodology or a specific way clubs/ teams operate. Assumptions usually form the basis for values and artifacts.
What we are aiming for when looking at these three things is an alignment, in that, when thought of as a whole they form a coherent environment preferably of continuous learning and development.
- Integration of Efforts
The integration of friends, family and athletes among other stakeholders should never be taken for granted. From amateur to elite sport this is a key element in sustainability. This could be ensuring the wider club community volunteer to marshal races, organise club nights, provide transport etc. What the end goal here is, is to create a community allowing the athletes themselves to experience a type of synergy in their everyday lives.
Having a basic awareness of the above points allows you to reflect on how your club or team sets about in creating an athletic talent development environment which benefits all involved. Being honest and critical in a construct manner of your own environment is the only way to bring about change.
1 Henriksen, K. (2010). The ecology of talent development in sport: A multiple case study of successful athletic talent development environments in Scandinavia (Doctoral dissertation, Syddansk Universitet. Det Sundhedsvidenskabelige Fakultet).
2 Henriksen, K., Stambulova, N., & Roessler, K. K. (2011). Riding the wave of an expert: A successful talent development environment in kayaking. The sport psychologist, 25(3), 341-362.
3 Henriksen, K., Stambulova, N., & Roessler, K. K. (2010). Holistic approach to athletic talent development environments: A successful sailing milieu. Psychology of sport and exercise, 11(3), 212-222.
4 Henriksen, K., Stambulova, N., & Roessler, K. K. (2010). Successful talent development in track and field: considering the role of environment. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20, 122-132.
5 Baker, J., Cobley, S., & Fraser‐Thomas, J. (2009). What do we know about early sport specialization? Not much!. High ability studies, 20(1), 77-89.
6 Schein, E. H. (1985). Defining organizational culture. Classics of organization theory, 3, 490-502.