Athletes News

Talent Selection and Development in Shooting Sport

Dr. Neda Nozari, Member of ISSF & ASC Medical Committee

Introduction

Shooting sport complexity as a sport is evidenced by the extent to which anthropometric, physiological, psychological, perceptual and technical strength all contribute to a shooting athlete’s performance[1]. Identifying and developing athlete’s predisposed to such attributes can be just as complex.

Acknowledging specific qualities that are required to achieve optimal success in shooting sport is of utmost importance in identifying talent. In turn, identifying sporting potential early helps young athletes receive specialized coaching and training to accelerate their talent development process. 

This short article offers some general information about talent selection in shooting sport and describes important criteria used in the selection and development of talented shooting sport athletes.  A ‘schematic protocol for talent identification, development and perfection’ is offered at the end. This protocol can be modified based on your regional or national circumstances. 

Talent Selectors vs. Talent identifiers

The pursuit of excellence has long been based on three key concepts:  selection, identification  and development. 

Many youth sports coaches think that they are great talent identifiers. However, the reality is that, for the most part, they are talent selectors, not talent identifiers. 

  • Talent selection is to choose athletes with the current ability to participate and be successful in future events. Some coaches only look at current athleticism and technical ability. Based on the same, as talent selectors,  coaches usually select the strongest young shooters and train them for extensive hours. 
  • Talent identification is the ability to predict future performance based upon an evaluation of current physical and psychological attributes. Talent identifiers search for children with potential to become elite shooters further to physical and psychological training. Talent selection is a simple process, whereas talent identification is a complex art [2].

Scientific identification is a new method to identify a youth athlete as a prime candidate to practice a certain sport based on test results and scientific data. Experts apply evidence-based criteria (e.g. genetic background, intelligence, psychological state, neuromuscular and anatomical structure, etc.) to identify the most talented youth age candidates for shooting sport[3].

Age

Children should ideally start practicing shooting sport in their late childhood in order to be successful. However, children must not be “pushed” into shooting sport. Predictive variables of a high level of success depend on a child voluntary choosing to compete in shooting sport[4].

This is not to say that youth Athletes should just participate in shooting sport. A study on Olympians showed that athletes played on an average three sports regularly up to age of 14, and then focused on their sport. It means professional athletes or Olympians benefit from cross training and can often attribute their great achievements to an early exposure to a variety of sports which allowed them to develop a variety of skills[5].

There are three stages of sport participation: sampling years (ages 6–12), specializing (ages 13–15), and investment (ages +16)[6]. Because shooting sport requires motor and psychological capacity and biometric anthropometric properties[7], talent screening and selection should ideally  be done when an athlete is aged 13-14[8].

While identifying shooting at the age of 13-14 is the rule of thumb, the big problem with this approach is that the chronological age and biological maturity rarely progress together or at the same rate[9]. Biological aging affects growth, performance and physical fitness[10] but psychological and physiological maturity does not always follow. In addition to the variance in physical fitness before or during puberty, physiological maturity has a large influence on performance tests, especially in boys. The rate of maturation and puberty impacts upon performance characteristics and general intelligence. 

Gender

Studies show a significant divergence between male and female athletes in competence, achievement goals and perceptions of the talent development environment. Some studies showed that male athletes showed higher performance-approach goal and competence and lower negative perceptions, compared to their female counterparts during certain ages. 

Shooting sport competence also may favor the male athletes over the female athletes due to the socialization process or the environment in which athletes develop and train. As a result, studies seems to indicate that male athletes have more long-term developmental focus, communication, and long-term development fundamentals compared with the female athletes[11].

Therefore, Boys and girls should be judged by their own standards and perhaps at different development phases and in varying training facilities, in order to find more talented shooters in each gender[12].

Gender of course may also play a role in the early development years of a female shooting athlete because culturally, many females are typically neither predisposed to play with nor introduced to rifle sports. 

Genetics

Sport scientists believe that both ideal genetic disposition and environmental conditions help  optimize the probability of athletic success[13].

Yet, the consensus between sport and exercise genetics researchers is that genetic tests do not have a central role in talent identification. This is because it is not clear which specific genes or variants should be tested and because there is a  lack of appropriate interpretation of the genetic consumer data. It seems that the current level of knowledge may be misrepresented by some laboratories for commercial purposes. 

Therefore, no child or young athlete should be exposed to genetic tests for talent identification[14].

Physical Fitness and Anthropometric Data

Anthropometric features and physical fitness are important elements in talent selection and performance estimation for shooting sport, just as it is in all sports. In addition to length and body weight measurement, children’s body composition is measured. Their physical development and fitness status are determined by comparing them to percentile tables[15]. Coaches should keep in mind that anthropometrical parameters differ between males and females[16].

Among different fitness tests, the Euro fit test is one of the most frequently used test in researches including Skinfold thickness measurements, Flamingo balance test, Plate tapping, Sit-and-reach, Standing board jump, Handgrip test, Sit-ups in 30 seconds, Bent arm hang, 10×5 meters shuttle run, and 20 meters endurance shuttle run (‘Beep test’)[17].

Models that rely only on anthropometrical determinants of talent, which initially favor selecting athletes who physically mature quickly, can result in the premature exclusion of some athletes who have potential but may not be maturing physically as rapidly. Accordingly, optimal specializing in shooting sport is should be during an athlete peak growth period, whatever age that may be for each individual athlete,  because of remarkable increase in muscle mass and coordination of neuromuscular during peak growth period[18].

In this sense, the distinction between 'performance' and 'talent' is crucial. Coaches should give optimal opportunities to develop talent in shooters as this will ensure longevity and consistency in results[19].

Intelligence 

Sport scientists describe three functional elements for intelligence: (a) the regulation and focus of attention, (b) the ability to process , receive and retain information and (c) the ability to form a plan of action or solution to a problem, execute it and determine its effectiveness. 

In shooting events involving speedy reactions, these three functional elements need to be activated under high pressure within a limited time and amidst various conditions. Elite shooters perform shooting skills very quickly and accurately due to excellent perceptual and cognitive abilities. These abilities correlate positively with psychometric intelligence (IQ). It means shooters with higher intelligence test scores tend to apprehend, scan, retrieve and respond to stimuli more quickly than those who scored lower. 

Practicing Skills

Three types of skills are important for shooting sport: cognitive skills, perceptual skills and motor skills. 

Cognitive skills include mental and intellectual skills of shooters and are essential for the shooter’s perception, effective decision making and problem solving. 

Perceptual skills help motor skills by interpreting what they have learned to perform. For example, a shooter with good perceptual and motor skills fires at the correct time and gets the best score “10.9”. 

Basic Motor skills include balance skill (static or dynamic balance), object control skill (such as holding gun), conditional skill (strength, endurance, speed, etc.) and coordinative skill (anticipation, reaction, rhythm, flexibility, mobility, etc.)[20].

Sport scientists believe that a minimum of 10 years (almost 10000 hours) of intensive practice is necessary for a shooter to acquire the experience required to achieve the highest level of skill in shooting sport[21].

Psychology

Psychological dispositions and mental skills, predominantly within the areas of motivation, volition, self-referential cognition, and emotion are imperative for talented shooters[22]Some important behavior and social variables for talent identification are attitude toward sports in school, participation in extra-curricular sports activities, and  personality development23.

The list of psychological determinants of excellence includes commitment, quality practice, goal- setting, imagery, planning at all levels, distraction control strategies, perceptions of pressure and performance evaluation. Increased personal and external expectations experienced by shooters affect performance during development period. Additionally, the ability of shooters to retain a best-performance focus in subsequent competitions is a key to continue success. These psychological determinants of continued success can be referred to as 'maintenance skills'. They are key factors in optimal talent selection[23].

Coaches should know that personality tests generally offer  low prediction rate (8-10%) in determining future sport performance quality. Testing elite athletes with various psychological tests showed that no single form or set of psychological characteristics can precisely predict  the quality of future athletic performances. Sport psychologists believe that recent advances in sport psychology measurement techniques and more experience in practice settings should be accompanied by less premature judging and predicting of sport talent[24]

Coaches can take advantage of some standard forms (such as Athletic Coping Skills Inventory) to evaluate the mental power of a shooter during development period and also for final selection[25]

In bears mention that in studies, ‘hope for success’ had a positive effect on future performance and ‘fear of failure’ had a negative impact on success. Shooters with hope demonstrate more positive functional behaviors (e.g., more endurance and effort, and self-serving attributions) compared to shooters with fear of failure[26].Love of sport and a positive outlook both remain primordial intrinsic psychological and motivational tools to achieve success in shooting sport.

Talent selection and direction stages

The talent selection and orientation process divide into three phases: Primary selection (Initiation), Secondary selection (Development) and Final selection (Perfection).[27]

In the primary selection phase, measurements and comparisons are used to determine general health screening, anthropometric and motoric characteristics of children aged 13-14[28].Popular sports attract more participants, so one way of increasing shooting talent selection initiating children to playing different sports[29]. Some children may never have chance to try or participate in shooting sport, even though it is the sport for which they might be better suited.  As stated above, an athlete’s love of shooting sport is intrinsic to his or her success.  Therefore, basic shooting training should be provided for those who are interested in shooting sport.

The secondary phase uses psychomotor and skill tests(5). Some available simplified questionnaires such as “Talent Development Environment Questionnaire for Sport”  may help coaches gain a clear understanding of their athletes’ key priorities and goals, allows them to gain regular feedback and monitor change, and permit them to evaluate athletes to correctly direct them in a timely manner[30].

The final selection phase, comparing data on the development, performance and skill level of shooters and laboratory tests looks to confirm health, fitness and talent for shooting sport. According to the final evaluation results, only skilled shooters continue training up to a level of perfection in special shooting centers with, where athletes are fortunate to benefit from the same,  full-time academic shooting training[31]

One of the main requirements in developing top shooters is the availability of highly knowledgeable coaches with proper development plans[32]. Coaches should consider a long-term development vision in mind while planning their training program. It means they allow shooters to make mistakes in training and educate shooters to take responsibility for their own development[33]. Talent selection should be followed concomitantly with the talent development that directs those potential performers towards elite performance[34]. Besides shooting skills, children need to good opportunities to develop the psychomotor and psycho-behavioral factors proposed as precursors to successful development in shooting sport. Children’s progress should be monitored by their coaches, prior to any selection into or elimination from a talent development program[35].

Finally, it does without saying that experience in real competitions not only plays a vital role in the development of a shooter but also provides a good point for training and motivation for daily shooting training if provided at the right level and frequency[36].

From beginning to end, a successful coach spends numerous years developing and producing elite level winners. As indicated before, at least 10000 hours of deliberate practice is required to attain expertise[37].

Special Shooting Sport Centers (School / Academy/ Camp)

These centers offer professional training programs for long term success in shooting sport. In addition to shooting training, they focus on developing physical skills (e.g., fitness , balance, flexibility, etc.) and psychological skills (e.g., responsibility, attitude, dedication, mental power, learning through mistakes, etc.) to foster long term success[38].

The following are some fundamentals to the success of  ‘Shooting Sport Centers for Talent Development and Perfection in Shooting Sport’.

      i.         Professional Coaches

Coaches have a main role for each shooter’s development, maturation and perfection, particularly at the elite level[39].Coaches act as a teacher. They not only have shooting skills but require knowledge of various domains. At first, coached working with beginners focus on the fundamentals of shooting. Then, in time, a coach will stimulate both the development of his shooter's personality and skills. A good training program will includes upgrading the level of psychomotor training, developing selective decision-making skills, and decreasing the reaction period in a shooter.  Studies showed athletes who trained alongside experienced coaches with positive leadership skills exhibited a significant increase in self-esteem and a decrease in anxiety through the training season[40]. The coach's expertise usually positively impacts a shooter's performance. Because they offer superior structure and content of practice, maximize training time, and engage in meticulous planning, skilled coaches develop more elite shooters[41].

     ii.         Facilities and Equipment 

Proper shooting facilities and equipment are essential for quality preparation. They are one of the main factors for a shooter with potential to become an expert in shooting sport[42].

Quality guns are, of course, necessary. In addition, computer-controlled training systems have been designed for nearly all shooting disciplines with multiple functions and various analysis possibilities. These systems can measure and store the hit point of the shooting score, the displacement information of shot tracking, aiming ability, and holding ability, etc. Coaches are now able to detect specific patterns of gun handling, reaction time, accuracy, etc. among shooters of differing skill levels by these electronic methods[43]. Mind, concentration, control of thoughts, emotions, and mood are also assayed by special electronic sensors and soft wares[44]. Biofeedback training is also possible to improve reaction time[45]

Using various devices and equipment like surface electromyography can also help a Coach design training programs based on special and individual data in order to enhance self-control or self-regulation abilities in a shooter[46].

Facilities that hold such state-of-the-art equipment are quite effective in assessing the technical strengths and weaknesses of a shooter.

    iii.         Motivation

Two forms of motivation are intrinsic motivation (need to feel competency and pride in something) and extrinsic motivation (follow activity in order to attain some separate outcome). Some of significant influences among success factors for shooters are effective coaching, natural talent, support from family and friends, love of sport, training programs and facilities, excellent competition opportunities and enough financial support[47].

Coaches expose shooters to challenge themselves through training and competition to promote their development to the highest level. An approachable system can help and support the shooters’ development in all areas[48].

Sport scientists also emphasize on the importance of parental influence on children's involvement and achievement in sport. Positive parental and familial influence will foster to a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Families can create a positive atmosphere for a child to initiate and maintain life-long sport participation. And, while a moderate level of pressure by parents may motivate their children, too much extrinsic pressure can lead to negative effects on a child’s performance. This means a positive family support system is an important factor to the successful development of young shooters[49].

    iv.         Competitive Environment

Competition provides a standard test to evaluate a shooter’s abilities such as skill, physical conditioning, knowledge, intelligence, motivation, mental strength etc.[50]. While a competitive environment is healthy, the Athlete’s level of competition should increase at the same speed as the progression of his or her skill to not cause the Athlete too much anxiety[51].

Conclusions 

Choosing talented shooters is the most important step to cultivate elite shooters[52]. After identifying optimal skills and talent in children aged 13-14 years, the true test of a talent identifier is selecting athletes who are interested to take up Shooting Sport to develop their talent.[53]

Once a talented athlete is identified and selected, coaches have significant roles for presenting a successful training program[54]. The coaches follow key criteria such as technique, attitude, balance, speed, understanding, personality, skill, talent and intelligence in selecting a shooter[55]. Parental education is also crucial to provide significant emotional and logistical support for young shooters[56].

Since predicting a shooter's future success is meaningless without adequate resources to follow up development of the shooter's potential administrators, coaches, parents, and sport psychologists should help young shooters reach their performance potential through the provision of appropriate training programs throughout the development stages of their careers[57].

 

A schematic protocol

 for Talent Identification, Development and Perfection

  


[1] Vaeyens R, Lenoir M, Williams AM, Philippaerts RM. Talent identification and development programs in sport. Sports medicine. 2008 Sep 1; 38(9):703-14.

[2] O'Sullivan J. Our Biggest Mistake: Talent Selection Instead of Talent Identification. Published in Coaching, Problems in Youth Sports. Sports Parenting. 2013.

[3] Kaynar Ö, Bilici F. Examination of Talent Selection Methods in Different Sports Branches. Journal of Education and Training Studies. 2019 Jan 1; 6(12a):44-8.

[4] Hugo K. A model for talent identification and development for team sports in South Africa (Doctoral dissertation, Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University).

[5] Suppiah HT, Low CY, Chia M. Detecting and developing youth athlete potential: different strokes for different folks are warranted. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Jul 1; 49(13):878-82.

[6] Gray HJ, Plucker JA. “She's a natural”: Identifying and developing athletic talent. Journal for the Education of the Gifted. 2010 Jul; 33(3):361-80.

[7] Muniroglu S, Subak E. An Overview of the Important Points of Talent Selection in Sports. Res Inves Sports Med. 2018; 3(3):1-4.

[8] Ibid 4,5. 

[9] Ibid. 1. 

[10] Ibid. 7.

[11] Wang CK, Pyun DY, Li C, Lee MS. Talent development environment and achievement goal adoption among Korean and Singaporean athletes: Does perceived competence matter? International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. 2016 Aug; 11(4):496-504.

[12] Ibid 4.

[13] Ibid 4.

[14] Webborn N, Williams A, McNamee M, Bouchard C, Pitsiladis Y, Ahmetov I, Ashley E, Byrne N, Camporesi S, Collins M, Dijkstra P. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing for predicting sports performance and talent identification: consensus statement. British journal of sports medicine. 2015 Dec 1; 49(23):1486-91.

[15] Ibid 7. 

[16] Wolstencroft E. Talent identification and development: An academic review. Edinburgh SportScotland. 2002 Aug.

[17] Ibid 7. 

[18] Ibid. 4.

[19] Ibid 10.

[20] Ibid 7.

[21] Ibid 1

[22] Murr D, Feichtinger P, Larkin P, Donna OC, Höner O. Psychological talent predictors in youth soccer: A systematic review of the prognostic relevance of psychomotor, perceptual-cognitive and personality-related factors. PloS one. 2018 Oct 15; 13(10):e0205337.

[23] Ibid 10.

[24] Anshel MH, Lidor R. Talent Detection Programs in Sport: The Questionable Use of Psychological Measures. Journal of Sport Behavior. 2012 Sep 1; 35(3).

[25] Beckford TS, Poudevigne M, Irving RR, Golden KD. Mental toughness and coping skills in male sprinters. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise. 2016; 11(3):338-47. MS OF, Don Y, Susterna N, Saptra YM, Hanif S, Abdullah NM, Shahril MI. Examining the Indonesia and Malaysia student-athletes coping strategy in sports. European Scientific Journal. 2014; 2:331-7. McErlean LP. An examination of the psychometric properties of the athletic coping skills inventory-28 for adult recreational runners (Doctoral dissertation, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

[26] Ibid 12.

[27] Ibid 7, 8

[28] Ibid 7.

[29] Ibid 4. 

[30] Ibid 8, Martindale RJ, Collins D, Wang JC, McNeill M, Lee KS, Sproule J, Westbury T. Development of the talent development environment questionnaire for sport. Journal of sports sciences. 2010 Sep 1; 28(11):1209-21. Li C, Wang CK, Pyun DY, Martindale R. Further development of the talent development environment questionnaire for sport. Journal of sports sciences. 2015 Oct 21; 33(17):1831-43.

[31] Ibid 7

[32] Jacob A. Assets and modes of identification and development of talented student-athletes in selected sport disciplines in Kenyan universities (doctoral dissertation, Kenyatta university).

[33] Ibid 8. 

[34] Ibid 31.

[35] Ibid 6. 

[36] Ibid. 31.

[37] Ibid 29. 

[38] Ibid 5.

[39] Anshel MH, Lidor R. Talent Detection Programs in Sport: The Questionable Use of Psychological Measures. Journal of Sport Behavior. 2012 Sep 1; 35(3).

[40] Ibid 31.

[41] Ibid 38

[42] Ibid 31. 

[43] Ihalainen S, Kuitunen S, Mononen K, Linnamo V. Determinants of elite‐level air rifle shooting performance. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports. 2016 Mar 26 (3):266-74.

[44] Lu FJ, Gill DL, Yang C, Lee PF, Chiu YH, Hsu YW, Kuan G. Measuring athletic mental Energy (AME): Instrument development and validation. Frontiers in psychology. 2018 Dec 6; 9:2363.

[45] Kos A, Umek A, Marković S, Dopsaj M. Sensor system for precision shooting evaluation and real-time biofeedback. Procedia computer science. 2019 Jan 1; 147:319-23.

[46] Svecova L, Vala D. Using electromyography for improving of training of sport shooting. IFAC-Papers On-Line. 2016 Jan 1; 49(25):541-5.

[47] Ibid 31.

[48] Ibid 10.

[49] Ibid 15. 

[50] Ibid 31.

[51] Ibid 4.

[52] Ibid 5.

[53] Ibid 24.

[54] Ibid 5. 

[55] Ibid 31. 

[56] Ibid 6. 

[57] Ibid 23.

Dr. Neda Nozari, Member of ISSF & ASC Medical Committee