No Longer Is It About Talent Alone

It is a known fact that recruiters in the high profile sports in the USA spend months following prospective signings, monitoring their behaviour to make sure that they have not only the right player, but the right personality attached to that player. How many clubs in Australian sport take the time to do the same? In fact how many of our Elite sporting programs invest the time in making sure they have the right personalities in their programs?

These elite programs will tell you that they have sports psychologists onboard and so they have ticked that box. That they know they have an athlete “in the right space” because the team psych’ says so. Is that a cop out?

In some cases definitely. In one sport it is believed that four elite athletes are seeking counselling now that the head coach has left the team. These athletes having been constantly on the end of negative comments from the coach. A coach who most likely was none too bothered with the reports received from the sports psychologist; or maybe the sports psychologist was caught between mixed loyalties. The coach who brought them into the team/club environment and the players whose welfare they were there to look after.

Another reason that due diligence is not carried out on many players is because across the country there is a mistrust between clubs in many sports. A club hears of a talented individual and simply must sign that individual before anyone else does. Little thought is given as to whether this player will gel into the club culture, or the playing style of their club. It comes down to simply not missing out on a player everyone is talking about. The AFL draft must be praised in this regard in that many clubs know the player they want and are prepared to trade selections in order to land that player.

Yet equally to blame are those representing many players. Some players have responsible representatives who genuinely do look after their well-being and will steer them aware from clubs that they feel will not benefit their career. Whereas as others will force a player to sign for the highest bidder, and take their cut not caring whether the player plays or not. If they don’t, another move will come around quicker than expected, and another payday for the unscrupulous representative.

It is interesting to find Australian sport in this position. Maybe it explains why internationally many national teams are going through a slump. After all Australia was for so long the world leader when it came to sports science and the development of athletes. Much of that talent has moved overseas and foreign programs have built on that experience. Of course it was no always perfect and mistakes were made with some athletes but the success rate was remarkable.

Times have changed and now, and there are outside influences that never existed. Social media is a drug to some. They simply cannot live without it. They cannot communicate any other way than via social media. A conversation terrifies them.

It is interesting that in the USA young talented players are being schooled in how best to promote themselves via these platforms. This is now seen as a key part of a young athlete’s development. With College coaches watching them as they train in the gym and how they interact with others in the months leading up to a decision on recruitment, how young adults behave on social media has now become a major benchmark when it comes to suitability for places on a team and certainly a sports scholarship.

The leading piece of advice is be careful what you write, post and comment online. Simple advice, but often ignored; especially by those who think that they are better than they actually are, or those who believe their talent will see them forgiven any misdemeanours.

All of us have been teenagers, we all know that there are times when it feels like the world is against you. However rather than heading onto your phone, tablet or laptop to find solace it is important to take a deep breath, stay composed and don’t express that anger and frustration online.

Like in a sporting contest it is not about what happens to you in that game or match, but rather how you react to that situation. Your emotions and reactions in that situation in the game, and also now away from the game will ultimately define your character.

As much as athletes may show strength in a game situation, many let themselves down once they cross back over the white line. We have witnessed many a star athlete tweeting comments that they later have to apologise for.

These outbursts from young upend coming athletes are something that coaches in the USA are very aware off and are monitoring closely. However it is not just the post match outburst, but also the party shots on Facebook and Instagram, the use of swearwords in online conversations, all of these budding athletes interactions are being monitored closely and a personality profile being compiled.

One example closer to home was of a young player selected for a junior international team. He was the only one from his state selected. The bulk of the players coming from New South Wales and Victoria. One the journey home at an airport in Asia the team split up with all of the players flying back independently to their home states. The player in question had the longest wait at the airport. He posted a simple comment along the lines of “Been a tough trip can’t wait to get home.” A fair comment, but one that left him open to criticism from the coaching staff. As to them it sounded like he had not enjoyed the experience and could not wait to get home. That was not even close to the truth, but it shows how a simple comment being misinterpreted can close a door to future opportunities.

The plus side to this extra assessment and monitoring of athletes with potential is that it has opened the door to athletes who may not have been on the College’s or coaches’ radar.

It is hard to be noticed when people have not seen you play. However word of mouth in the sporting world moves very quickly. So the key is to use the very tools that are killing others opportunities to boost your own.

The suggestions are for those with talent and a desire to match has been to take the time to edit highlights from games, and be truly critical, featuring only the truly worthwhile moments,- Showing six goals being scored in a 13-0 victory against poor opposition is not going to enhance anyone’s reputation,- and use the social media platforms to create a profile as an athlete.

The key aspect is controlling the content that you share. Making sure that whatever comments you post, whatever pictures you are in actually help promote the person you are. They show you as someone people would want on their team.

Players are also being advised actually talk to their coaches. Ask what the Coach is looking for, ask what you need to work on and areas that require improvement. That in itself takes courage, but if a young athlete wants to make it they will need courage. Coaches are looking for those players who want to improve, over those who think they already know everything.

As the athlete works on those weaknesses and becomes stronger they are being encouraged to share those improvements through various channels. With so much monitoring of athletes with talent it will no doubt find a way back to the coach. Such self promotion could be the difference between winning a place on a team or being consigned to play second tier sport.

As everyone knows even by doing this there is no guarantee that the athletes who go down this path will be successful, however those who are promoting such an approach state that “those that try and don’t make it, that’s OK because they will move on with no regrets.” The reason being, they gave themselves a better chance than they previously had.

Obviously many teenagers will scoff at such advice, but if this is advice being given in the USA it shows just how big an influence your social media profile has on your sporting future; and we are not talking about the number of followers resulting in commercial sponsorship deals.

How many sporting clubs and elite programs are taking the same interest in their future athletes? How many are ignoring the warning signs which are in some cases already there?

With closer media scrutiny on athletes today, this has become an essential part of the recruitment process and assessing the suitability of a young athlete. Is it right?

Who knows? One certainly wonders if it is whether the likes of John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase in tennis, George Best, Frank Worthington, or Maradona in football, would ever have made it to the top. The fact is in most great players there is an edge that makes them special. Today though these edges are worn down as there is no room for ‘individuals’ in modern sport. That is why there are so few stand-out players whose names roll off the tongue in many sports. However this is why the cultivation of an image, and promoting that image can pay dividends to an up and coming athlete. No longer is it just about talent.

No Longer Is It About Talent Alone
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