Given its integral role within the overall pursuit of sporting excellence, talent identification (TID; defined as the recognition of immediate and prospective performance potential) is an increasingly prominent area of research in the sport sciences (Vaeyens et al., 2008). This research is often oriented around the description of talent discriminating qualities, commonly quantified using performance outcome assessments (Reilly et al., 2000; Woods et al., 2016b). Such research designs enable the identification of performance qualities that may explain why some juniors excel within a particular sport. They also provide coaches with objective data of use for targeted training interventions designed to improve the development of prospective talent.
However, many of these performance testing research designs are mono-dimensional; being operationalised by physical fitness and/or anthropometric performance outcome assessments measured in isolation (Figueiredo et al., 2009; Hoare, 2000). Whilst providing insight into the physical and anthropometric qualities displayed by talent identified juniors, the efficacy of these designs is questionable. For example, physically-biased testing in pre-pubescent populations can provide misleading results given the myriad of maturational factors that may influence the development of such qualities (Cripps et al., 2016; MacNamara and Collins, 2011; Pearson et al., 2006). Additionally, a talented performance in team sports is often the result of multidimensional performance qualities (i.e., physical, technical, and perceptual skill), rather than one component in isolation (Launder, 2013). Thus, to gauge a holistic profile of performance qualities discriminant of talent in team sports, it has been recommended that multidimensional methodologies are implemented (Reilly et al., 2000).
In addressing such concerns, Woods et al. (2016b) established a multidimensional approach to TID in junior Australian football (AF) that consisted of physical, technical, and perceptual components. Results demonstrated that talent identified under 18 (U18) players possessed a distinctive set of multidimensional performance qualities specific to AF game-play when compared to their non-talent identified counterparts (Woods et al., 2016b). Further, the level of talent classification accuracy demonstrated in their study was greater than that previously reported in junior AF research, which had utilised more physically-oriented testing batteries (Woods et al., 2016b). Whilst of value, this multidimensional approach did not include measures of fundamental gross athletic movement skill--defined as competency while performing fundamental movements that commonly underpin more advanced athletic movements (Kritz et al., 2009; Woods et al., 2016a). The importance of including assessments of gross motor competency in TID has been described by Deprez et al. (2015). It was demonstrated that the assessment of gross motor competence (as measured using the Korperkoordinations Test fur Kinder) was predictive of future dropout and adherence to an elite talent development program in 8 to 16 year old soccer players (Deprez et al., 2015). Supportive of their results, Parsonage et al. (2014) indicated a strong relationship between fundamental gross athletic movements and performance on common assessments of physical capacity used for TID in junior rugby union.
Collectively, these studies suggest that the integration of fundamental gross athletic movement assessments into multidimensional TID approaches may provide a valuable insight into a junior's longitudinal performance potential. Specifically, the acquisition of fundamental gross athletic movement skill may augment the development of functional capacities specific to the sport in which talent is to be identified; possibly informing a juniors continued developmental potential (Parsonage et al., 2014). Thus, when integrated with performance outcome assessments, coaches may be afforded insights into both immediate and prospective performance potential. However, to date, it is unknown whether fundamental gross athletic movement skill is discriminative of talent in junior AF.
The current study aimed to discriminate talent identified and non-talent identified U18 AF players based on their performance on a fundamental gross athletic movement assessment. Stemming from findings in other sports (Parsonage et al., 2014), it was hypothesised that talent identified U18 AF players would possess superior fundamental gross athletic movement skill comparative to their non-talent identified counterparts. The subsequent results of this work may provide initial justification for the integration of such an assessment into multidimensional designs proposed to be of assistance for TID in team sports; specifically AF.
Institutional ethics declaration was granted by the relevant Human Research Ethics Committee. From a total sample of 158 U18 AF players originating from the same state-based competition, two player groups were defined; talent identified (n = 25, 17.7 [+ or -] 0.4 y) and non-talent identified (n = 25, 17.5 [+ or -] 0.6 y). Talent was defined by a priori identification onto a state academy program (elite talent development program in AF), while the non-talent identified group consisted of a random selection of the remaining 111 non-state academy representatives. A sample size of 50 was used, as constraints dictated that only 25 players were selected onto the state academy program by the state academy coaching staff. Accordingly, a matched sample size was implemented for the non-talent identified players. To be eligible for inclusion, players were to be injury free (no pain while performing movements) and participating in regular training sessions for a minimum of four consecutive weeks at the time of data collection.
Each player had their athletic movement assessed on one occasion at the conclusion of the 2015 preseason training...