How to Recognise Tennis Talent? Piotr Unierzyski University School of Physical Education, Tennis Department, Poznan, Poland.

• Overview of “Talent” and related concepts.
• What research tells us about Talent Identification in sport and tennis.
• Implications & practical solutions.
Talent :
• Potential for success, to become elite, and/or for high level performance.
• The ability to display exceptionally high performance in a domain that requires
skills and training.
• Talent is measured by “the rate of improvement in the training situation.”
Talent Detection
Refers to non-participants; how can we get potentially talented individuals involved in a sport?
Talent Selection
Choosing those who have a “chance to make it” and rejecting those who do not have this chance. This usually occurs at an early age and has been widely used in autocratic countries (e.g. former East Germany).
Talent Identification
Refers to the process of recognizing current participants with the potential to become elite players. Gifted players are scouted and invited to participate in youth programmes but everybody has a chance to practice and participate in programmes and competitions at an adequate level.
Talent Development
Provision of an optimal learning and training environment for realisation of talent.
14th ITF Worldwide Coaches Workshop, Turkey 2005 – “Quality Coaching for the Future” The International Tennis Federation
1.It originates in genetically transmitted structures and hence is at least partly innate.
2.Its full effects may not be evident at an early stage, but there will be some early indications, allowing trained people to identify the presence of talent before exceptional standards of mature performance have been demonstrated.
3.These early indications of talent provide a basis for predicting who is likely to excel.
4.Only a minority are talented; if all children were talented, then there would be no way to predict or explain differential success.
5. Very few individuals are talented in any single domain. (Howe et al., 1998)
Talent identification in tennis is practically “unresearched” (Müller, 1989), and is usually based on results reached at the young age. Usually associations and sponsors do not want to invest in players without good results “on court”. Because of this many talented players, who do not achieve good results early are lost. Tennis coaches believe that they may “smell” talent and do not want to use any science.
Research shows that:
• Different factors determine performance level at early stages of tennis career than at a professional level; therefore on-court results before puberty cannot be used as “predictors” of future performance level.
• Any process of talent identification should detect the level of factors affecting performance in serious tennis, and cannot be based not only on the performance results.
• Talented players cannot have big “gaps” in any important ability or a factor limiting performance, even at the age of 10-12. For example: a slow player can be the champion at the age of 12 but never at the age of 20.
• Since it is almost impossible to develop all predispositions at a maximum level (e.g. speed vs. endurance), talented player ought to have all major abilities (so called limiting factors) at a good (e.g. around average or better) level at his/her disposal.
• There is a need to give coaches and federations a simple and effective tool which will support their “nose and eye” and development programmes.
Ideal Talent Identification programme:
• Is based on achievements of sport science but takes opinions of a coach into account.
14th ITF Worldwide Coaches Workshop, Turkey 2005 – “Quality Coaching for the Future” The International Tennis Federation
• Must be looked upon as a process and not an event and requires constant updating; must have an ongoing longitudinal character (considering changes together with time) with an inter-disciplinary approach, support of academics but dominant role of coaches.
• Should predict potential for future performance with high probability.
• Should assess mainly stable features (having inborn or permanent character).
• Profiling, based on interdisciplinary test, is the best method.
• Procedures should support players’ development programme, (answer if sensitive
periods were properly used) and start with a relatively large number of potential
• End of each stage is the best moment to do major (more scientific) screening.
It is very important, when analysing results to consider:
• Individual differences in growth, maturation (biological age).
• “Range of acceptability” (in results, in technique, compensational influence of major
motor abilities).
• Opinion of individual coach (es) – even best scientific tests do not cover all areas.
• Do not judge/reject/accept too early!
Ideal parameters:
• Anthropometrical data, (incl. biological development).
• Motor abilities, mainly coordination, agility, footwork, speed, power.
• Psychological features/characteristics, (mostly of permanent type, e.g.
temperament, achievement motivation, intelligence).
• Technical-tactical skills.
• Social background.
• Speed/Tempo of progress/Trainability/Coachability.
• Performance (not only results) in tournaments.
Howe, M.J., Davidson, J.W., and Sloboda, J.A. (1998). Innate talents: Reality or myth? Behavioural & Brain Sciences, 21, 399-442.
Muller, E. (1989). Sport Motor Testing Procedures for Talent Identification in Tennis. Leistungssport.
14th ITF Worldwide Coaches Workshop, Turkey 2005 – “Quality Coaching for the Future” The International Tennis Federation

One thought on “How to Recognise Tennis Talent? Piotr Unierzyski University School of Physical Education, Tennis Department, Poznan, Poland.

  1. He ceutinnos to be over rated, but at same time, had been the more consistent player over the last several months which put him into the favorite position. Also by consistently beating the top players. I dont care for him much, but he was labeled the guy to beat due to his tremendnous play since late summer of ’08. This is surely a large bruise for him and his fans and the media that ceutinnos to put him on a pedestal. Until he wins a slam though, he remains one of the main contenders, and thats it. WTG Verdasco!

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