Identification and development of talent in young female gymnasts
In the most recent survey, Performance Directors and Sports Scientists highlighted talent identification to be the top priority for research within Great Britain (Burwitz, 1999). However, the identification of talent is only the first stage of a continuous process of development through which sporting excellence may be realised. The contribution of talent identification to the attainment of excellence in Women's Artistic Gymnastics has yet to be conclusively determined. Moreover, as a result of the lack of longitudinal research in this area, the impact of growth and maturation upon the development of talent characteristics in the young female gymnastics not fully understood. A longitudinal study was conducted to examine the identification and development of talent within a mixed ability sample of 48 young female gymnasts. Potentially prognostic talent characteristics from social-demographic physical, perceptual-motor and psychological dimensions of performance were assessedin an 'initial' measurement session (September 1996). The 'future' performance of the gymnasts was assessed 17 months later (February 1998) using a composite index of competitive performance and technical skill acquisition. The performance of gymnasts was classified as successful or unsuccessful according to this index. The relationship between the 'initial' talent characteristics and 'future' gymnastic performance was examined using principal components analysis and logistic regression. Using a similar approach, the extent to which a reduced battery of talent characteristics was able to distinguish between the gymnasts and a group of 15 untrained control subjects was determined. Finally, to provide an insight into the longitudinal development of the talent characteristics, the initial test battery was administered to the gymnasts on two further occasions separated by a measurement interval of six months. The results indicated that the profile of the young female gymnast is multidimensional. It is recommended that information should be analysed within each dimension of performance before being combined to produce a multidimensional profile. The physical characteristics were found to be the most prognostic indicators of talent and were recommended for inclusion in both the initial identification and subsequent monitoring processes. Support was also provided for the predictive validity of perceptualmotor characteristics, however, the contribution of these characteristics may be enhanced by further improvements in measurement reliability. Recommendations were drawn from the social-demographic and psychological dimensions concerning the most effective organisation of the training environment. The results from each dimension were combined to produce guidelines for the initial identification and subsequent development of talent within young female gymnasts.