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Unleashing Potential: A Comprehensive Approach to Talent Scouting in Shooting Sports

Updated: Mar 2

Col Amarjeet Singh, Former Commandant - Army Marksmanship Unit, Mhow and an alumnus of the 2nd Edition of the High Performance Leadership Program (HPLP), shares insights from a pioneering study integrating psychological dimensions into the talent scouting process in the Indian context.

 



Introduction

The Long-Term Athlete Development Plan (LTADP) is a concept fromsports development which emphasizes a holistic and systematic training of athletes from childhood till adulthood. The bedrock of LTADP involves a graduated progression of an athlete encompassing various stages of physical, mental and emotional development. Each stage necessitates specific training methods, coaching techniques and support systems customized to the needs of the athlete at that particular stage of development.

The Indian sporting ecosystem has come a long way from trial-and-error system of achieving sporting excellence to an athlete centric-coach led and system driven model, underscored by recent triumphs in the Asian Games. Despite these significant strides, challenges persist in identifying and nurturing grassroots talent. The leakages in the talent pipeline resulting from talent waste due to cumbersome selection and nurturing procedure in turn leads to a colossal waste of the financial and material resources. 

Keeping in mind the above argument, this article emphasizes the need for an evolutionary shift in talent scouting incorporating a refined integration of psychological dimensions alongside traditional physiological and skill-based criteria within the LDAP.The same template can also be utilized while implementing talent identification in other sports keeping the fundamental aspects of psychological framework in mind.

The Importance of Psychological Dimensions

While sports psychology has traditionally found its niche at the high-performance level, it is contended that integrating it into talent identification and development stages is equally crucial. A case exists wherein certain core qualities determine whether a particular athlete, “keeping the skills and physical prowess at a constant” would be able to excel at the highest level of competition or not. When one speaks of sports psychology in the Indian sporting ecosystem, it is always considered at the high performance level. We  seldom  about involving psychology at the talent identification and talent development stage.

In my observation, those core qualities which enable an athlete to excel, to rise above the call and beat one’s own expectations, if identified at a nascent stage and quantified,  would lead to much more focused and optimized training as well utilization of resources. Though ‘human will’ can surpass all limitations, however it can not be denied that indomitable human will is also a core quality which not every athlete possesses. Moreover, there are various shades of ‘indomitable human will’, which besides other core qualities if mapped and nurtured well would indeed lead to better sporting performance and sporting excellence.

The core point here is that the time has come where our sporting ecosystem evolves and devises a systems approach to talent scouting at the grass roots level, paying due emphasis to certain core psychological qualities or traits. This need not be in divergence to the traditional physiological and skill based parameters model but can be a convergent approach where besides skills, physiological and psychological parameters also play an important role in decision making process during talent identification, selection as well as retention and weeding out. Such an approach would not only focus the efforts but would also be useful in devising and implementing a predictive model in place which can be incorporated in the LTADP of an athlete.



Though ‘human will’ can surpass all limitations, it can not be denied that indomitable human will is also a core quality which not every athlete possesses

A Case Study: Integrating Psychology into Talent Scouting 

Under the mentorship of Dr. Reetesh Riku,PhD, and this author, a pioneering case study unfolded at an elite Sports Institution. Athletes underwent comprehensive personality trait assessments using the Vienna Testing System. 

Psychological Mapping: The existing athletes were mapped for their personality traits on the Vienna Testing System (Eysenck Personality Profiler and Big Five Structure Inventory). They were graded as per their skill level i.e Elite, Intermediate and Novices, and thereafter certain correlations were found between the personality of the individual and his performance in the competitions based on personality traits. 

Psychophysiological Mapping: 

The psychophysiological measures such as EEG (Electroencephalography), EMG (Electromyography), respiratory and motility which provide valuable insights into cognitive and psychophysiological functions were also overlapped along with the personality profiling. 

Identification of Core Qualities: 

A top down and bottom-up survey was carried out which included the elite shooters, intermediate shooters, elite and high-performance coaches and eminent psychologists. The qualities identified by the above sample population were grouped in factors and filtered by psychologists in order to churn out the most relevant qualities as applicable to shooting sports. Once the identification of the qualities was done the scaling of qualities as applicable in slow and fast events was carried out. It clearly emerged out the exercise that ensuring a podium finish in shooting sports certainly requires some fundamental traits. The subset of these traits differed in their scaling between slow events and fast events, for e.g. the traits required for excelling in Shotgun Shooting are at a complete divergence to the traits required for excelling in Air Pistol. However, certain traits were found to be common in all the events.

Grading of the Athletes: 

Once the psychological and psychophysiological mapping was completed the athletes were graded as Very High Potential, High Potential and Average Potential, this graded system was implemented to ascertain a certain performance probability for the future. Since these athletes were proven talent and had come through a very rigorous selection process hence filtering of certain traits was not required and it was assumed that the skills and personality have already matured. The manifestation of the personality traits in question had to be observed in competition and a long-term correlation of traits vs performance had to be formed.

Outcome: 

The traits were observed for a period of more than 24 months, the detailed results are confidential however a positive correlation of more than 70 percent was found between the qualities identified, mapped and their manifestation in the competition. The exponential growth athletes with consistency in their traits and performance were identified, segregated and focused attention was given on their performance management. The results achieved by the team are in the open domain wherein a large number of shooters have displayed quantum leap in their performance. This groundbreaking initiative showcased the potential for incorporating psychological dimensions into the fabric of talent scouting.


Lessons Learnt

Psychological Dimensions in Talent Scouting: 

In order to ensure that the psychological dimensions become integral to talent scouting in shooting sports, attributes like resilience, adaptability, and mental fortitude can be pivotal in determining an athlete's success trajectory beyond evident physical and technical skills. Incorporating psychological assessments into the talent identification process would enable sports organizations to make more informed decisions regarding athlete selection, providing a holistic approach to long-term development.

Personality Profiling Tests: Among the available personality tests, the Big Five Personality Test emerges as a highly objective method for assessing personality profiles of athletes. This test evaluates Emotional Stability, Extraversion, Openness, Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness, providing valuable insights for talent scouting and development (Schuhfried, 2022). It is a multi-dimensional questionnaire for measuring the Big Five dimensions which consist of Emotional Stability, Extroversion, Openness, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness. Each dimension is further measured by means of six subscales. 

Modularity: The modular structure of the test enables the individual dimensions and their facets to be assessed separately which further enables future behavioral tendencies to be predicted which provides an economic means of assessing suitability in terms of particular requirements profiles. 

Psychophysiology in Talent Scouting:  The scientific study of psychophysiology, exploring the connection between psychology and physiology, also offers a comprehensive understanding of the mind-body relationship. In the context of sports and exercise psychology, psychophysiological measures have been instrumental in predicting and enhancing performance. Measures such as EEG (Electroencephalography), EMG (Electromyography), respiratory, and motility provide valuable insights into cognitive and psychophysiological functions. These factors, often overlooked in past studies, are also crucial for a structured performance management approach which can be incorporated in personality assessment of potential talent along with the psychological testing.

Implementation and Future Prospects: As we transition into a new era of sports development, it is advocated that immediate integration of psychological dimensions into the LTADP should form a standard practice. Identifying core qualities at an early stage can lead to more nuanced training programs and optimized resource utilization, ensuring holistic athlete development that transcends mere physical and technical prowess. The implementation of such an approach promises to refine the talent identification process, minimize dropout rates, and foster a resilient generation of athletes equipped not only with technical skills but also with the mental acumen to navigate the challenges of high-stakes competitions. This multifaceted approach would minimize dropout and burnout rates, creating a more resilient and successful generation of athletes poised for international acclaim.


References:


  1. Impact of Cognitive and Psychophysiological factors among Indian Shooters Performance Enhancement and Management:A Research Proposal Presented by Reetesh Riku.

  2. M. S. Allen, I. Greenlees, and M. Jones, “Personality in sport: A comprehensive review,” International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, vol. 6, no. 1.

  3. M. E. Nia and M. Ali Besharat, “Comparison of athletes’ personality characteristics in individual and team sports,” in Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2010, vol. 5, pp. 808–812.

  4. A. M. Williams and T. Reilly, “Talent identification and development in soccer,” J. Sports Sci., vol. 18, no. 9, pp. 657–667, 2000.

  5. R. R. McCrae and P. T. Costa, Jr., “The five-factor theory of personality,” in Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research, no. 2, 1999, pp. 159–181.

  6. E. Aidman and G. Schofield, “Personality and individual differences in sport,” Sport Psychol. Theory, Appl. issues (2nd ed.)., vol. 60, no. 2014, pp. 22–47, 2004

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