Within athletic performance there are two main models for talent development; the deliberate practise model and talent recycling. It’s interesting that both can yield world class athletes, but what are the benefits and downfall of each?

The deliberate practise model is based around the idea of early specialisation (Goncalves, Rama & Figueiredo, 2012). It specifically supports the assumption that ‘experts are always made, not born’ (Goncalves, Rama & Figueirdo, 2012). Therefore this framework has an innate belief that approximately 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practise is required in order to become an expert in any field (Simon & Chase, 1973).  Within this model it is the understanding that early talent identification can provide the conditions to create world class athletes. This approach uses balanced practise and development in the specialisation years under the guidance of expert coaches. Ericsson (2008) showed improvements in performance in chess players to reach the international level with consistent dedication to the skill over many years. In comparison talent recycling is a model that looks more at identifying athletic potential at a later stage. This model identifies athletes post maturation due to success in another sport that requires similar characteristics. This suggests that an athlete can still be successful with accumulated deliberate practise in multiple sports. Emphasis within the talent transfer model is placed on prior sporting experience including competition experience, enjoyment and an innate ability (Bullock et al., 2009).

The deliberate practise model conflicts with the idea of talent transfer as it makes the assumption that 10 years of monitored deliberate practise in the sport challenging performance is required for high quality talent development (Goncalves, Rama & Figueiredo, 2012). When selecting athletes for early specialisation Goncalves, Rama & Figueiredo (2012) showed that maturation status of the athlete is problematic in determining success. Specifically, it can be seen that at the onset of puberty there are increases in aerobic and anaerobic capacity, as well as increases in anaerobic power in males (Goncalves, Rama & Figueiredo, 2012).  Rate of maturation can affect factors such as motor coordination, intelligence, muscular endurance and muscular strength (Vaeyens et al., 2008). Therefore physiological markers are poor indicators of talent prior to maturation.  Attributes shown prior to adolescence will not necessarily be carried through maturation into adulthood (Vaeyens et al., 2008). This is a large downfall of the deliberate practise model. It has been suggested that motivation is a much better indicator to predict success (Goncalves, Rama & Figueiredo, 2012).

In comparison to the deliberate practise model, talent recycling has a larger emphasise on sporting and competition experience with later specialisation. Developing the skills of the sport can be achieved in a smaller amount of time due to prior training history and natural talent. Bullock et al., (2009) implemented talent recycling as a method of talent identification for skeleton athletes. The study showed that athletes could be recruited based on high performance in previous sports and testing for advantageous attributes such as a fast 30m sprint time. The results depicted that there are alternate paths to success within a sport conflicting with the idea of the deliberate practise model.  World class athletes can be developed under the guidance of expert coaching, using a fundamental sporting base.

Although both models provide different frameworks for athlete development, both understand the importance of training during the period of growth and maturation. The physiological adaptations that occur during the growth period allow for young athletes to develop the physiological principles required in order to become elite athletes. Physiological adaptations such as increases in haemoglobin content in the blood and fat free mass are maturation dependant (Goncalves, Rama & Figueiredo, 2012). As the child goes through puberty both aerobic and anaerobic capacities increase and at the onset of puberty higher levels of growth hormone in males increase muscle mass (Goncalves, Rama & Figueiredo, 2012). Therefore the influence of regular training through these early years can play a large role within the theory of both models. Firstly according to the deliberate practise model early physiological adaptation to the demands of the sport can vastly increase the athlete’s capacity for future development. In saying that according to the idea of talent recycling an athlete could be just as prepared if they have trained in a sport with similar physiological requirements throughout the maturation process. The talent recycling framework discusses the idea of developing more of a physiological base rather than only focusing on the physiological principles required for one sport. Both theories encourage the idea of consistent training throughout maturation and growth.

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By Lisa Campbell – Accredited Exercise Physiologist; Accredited Exercise Scientist; ASCA; SMA

If you are looking for strength and conditioning call Lisa Campbell on 3356 9119.


Bullock, N., Gulbin, J. P., Martin, D. T., Ross, A., Holland, T. & Marino, F. (2009). Talent identification and deliberate programming in skeleton: Ice novice to winter Olympian in 14 months. Journal of Sports Science, 27(4), 397-404.

Ericsson, K. A. (2008). Deliberate Practise and Acquisition of Expert Performance: A General overview. Academy Emergency Medicine, 15(11), 988-994.

Goncalves, C. E. B., Rama, L. M. L., & Figueiredo, A. B. (2012). Talent Identification and Specialisation in Sport: An overview of some Unanswered Questions. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 7, 390-393.

Vaeyens, R., Lenoir, M., Williams, A. M., & Philippaerts, R. M. (2008). Talent Identification and Development Programmes in Sport. Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(9), 703-714.

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