Validation of a French Version of the Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence Questionnaire (MacNamara & Collins, 2011): A Situated Approach to Talent Development.

Author:Gesbert, Vincent
Position::Research article - Report


Talent development is a major concern for the sports organizations and clubs of many countries, as reflected by their financial investments (Bennet et al., 2018; Rees et al., 2016). Many sport programs are based on the assumption that talent is an innate disposition and have thus focused on an individual's anthropometric, athletic and technical characteristics at a given instant to indicate the likelihood of reaching elite status. Yet research has found only a weak correlation between success in lower age categories and success in the elite category (Abbott and Collins, 2002; Gullich and Emrich, 2014; Simonton, 2001), underlining the nonlinearity of athletic talent development. A good example is Pietro Mennea: his coaches saw little hope of him reaching elite status at the beginning of his career because of physical weaknesses, but he went on to become the 200m record-holder for more than 17 years (1979-1996). According to several theoretical models such as holistic ecological framework or differentiated model of giftedness and talent (Davids et al., 2017; Gagne, 2017; Martindale et al., 2005; Simonton, 2008; Subotnik et al., 2011), talent is therefore not merely innate but is also built and developed over time.

Talent development implies that many performance factors interact to convert athletic potential to situated achievement. These factors include individual dispositions, environmental characteristics, and training and competition details. Among the individual dispositions, mental skills are widely recognized as key factors for exploiting potentialities to produce or maintain high performances (e.g., Collins et al., 2016a; MacNamara et al., 2010). Many studies have sought to define, measure or transform athletes' mental skills (e.g., Durand-Bush and Salmela, 2002; Olszewski-Kubilius et al., 2015; Toering et al., 2009), suggesting that future athletes need psychological characteristics such as self-organization, goal-setting, performance assessment, resilience, grit and self-awareness to commit to practice and meet the challenges inherent to talent development. For example, athletes need to control sources of distraction in order to remain invested as they develop technical, tactical and physical competencies. Also, the ability to set goals and assess personal performances stimulates their investment in training. From this viewpoint, these mental skills are psychological dispositions that can be developed, but they also influence the effectiveness of the interaction with the talent development environment. They should thus be considered less as decontextualized individual characteristics and more as situational dispositions that emerge in relation to the resources offered by the social, physical and cultural environment in which athletes are embedded (Barab and Plucker, 2002; Collins et al., 2016b; Larsen et al., 2013; Plucker and Barab, 2005). These situational dispositions can be grasped through athletes' perceptions, feelings or cognitions of being capable to do something in context as available resource systems, as suggested by the "4E" approach to activity: embedded, embodied, extended and enacted (e.g., Barab and Plucker, 2002; Gesbert et al., 2017; Hauw, 2018; Lave, 1997; Rochat et al., 2017; Rowlands, 2010). With this approach, an individual appears skilled in situation and talent is assumed to emerge from distributed and functional relationships between the individual and context.

Acquiring these skills and being able to improve them when developmental opportunities arise are therefore key steps on the path to excellence (Collins and MacNamara, 2017; Olszewski-Kubilius et al., 2015), and the talent development environment should provide athletes with appropriate learning opportunities (Martindale et al., 2005). For example, Collins et al. (2016b) suggested that training programs should systematically foster the acquisition and development of psychological skills to ensure that athletes are equipped to seize opportunities and cope with, for example, performance slumps or increased volumes of practice. Although acquiring and using these skills do not necessarily guarantee elite level competition, their absence may nevertheless hinder in overcoming obstacles along the path to excellence (Collins and MacNamara, 2012; MacNamara et al., 2010).

A tool is thus needed to assess and track mental skills as athletes develop and to provide them with regular feedback. To this end, MacNamara and Collins (2011) built and validated the Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence Questionnaire (PCDEQ). The PCDEQ is composed of 59 items that prompt aspiring athletes to assess the extent to which the items correspond to their current activity using a 6-point Likert-type scale (from very unlike me to very like me). The psychometric properties reveal a six-factor factorial structure influencing the effectiveness of the process of sports talent development. The first factor refers to athletes' perceptions of coach support for their long-term success. It expresses how athletes judge the coach's role in the development and efficient use of their abilities with regard to skills like fixing objectives and coping with or controlling sources of distraction. The second factor refers to the use of imagery in training and competition, and the third factor concerns skills in coping with the inevitable pressures along the performance path. The fourth factor refers to the ability to self-organize and invest in quality athletic training. The fifth concerns the ability to evaluate personal performance and work on weaknesses, and the sixth concerns athletes' perceptions of friend and family support as they seek to reach their highest potential.

No study has yet used this questionnaire in the French language. Yet French is the official language of 274 million people living in 29 countries (fifth most spoken language in the world) according to the International Organization of La Francophonie (2014 report). The validation of a French version of the PCDEQ would therefore be a major step in expanding the international scientific community that deals with talent development programs (MacNamara and Collins, 2012). Also, sport psychologists are increasingly active in elite sport organizations. In addition to assessing and treating psychopathologies, they are frequently asked to develop and enhance athletes' mental skills while respecting their well-being. For...

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