Curse of the Faroes started in primary

RESEARCHERS from Edinburgh University have found the solution for Berti Vogts's miserable start as the nation's football manager. But it won't bring results in the short-term.

If Scotland wants to avoid years of repeat sporting disasters like the heroic draw with the Faroe Islands, it will have to devote at least two hours a week in primary schools to impart basic movement skills.

Only early skills in running, jumping, dribbling, spinning and dodging will allow future internationals to control the bouncing ball, leap athletically for a mishit pass or stick the awkward cross in the back of the net.

The researchers stress that fundamental motor abilities do not develop naturally in children and have to be coached and practised. Scotland, like other western nations, is failing to instil the basics during key developmental years, they conclude.

Tomorrow's top performers would benefit from a wide-ranging physical education programme which focuses on multi-skilling. Those who excel in a particular sport often develop from a different base and early specialisation does not work.

The study questions the growth of mini-rugby for primary children, which is said to introduce specific skills at too early an age, and challenges the Dance School of Scotland at Knightswood Secondary in Glasgow over its selection policy based on movement tests. It believes the school may miss potential by focusing on ability early on in secondary.

The inquiry into talent identification and development, commissioned by Sportscotland, dismisses any further substantial investment in specialist programmes. A two-year pilot programme for 10-12s in Glasgow, North Ayrshire and Scottish Borders has failed to deliver, like other such schemes across the world from Australia to Russia.

One of the basic difficulties, the researchers point out, is that too many young people are classed by teachers and coaches as "movement illiterate". Talent-spotting schemes need to be preceded by "a fundamental motor abilities programmes that is available to all".

The report, published this week, states: "Generic motor patterns underpin all sports and it is important that children develop these skills if they are going to excel, or indeed participate. However children do not appear to be provided with these opportunities."

It adds: "It must be recognised that the structure of the two hours of physical education is of crucial importance in deciding the extent of any benefits gained. Unfortunately, generic skills are often confused with involvement in a wide range of sport specific skills. Traditionally, physical education is based on team sports since they are appropriate for group teaching."

There is also no evidence to suggest that talent is innate and all that sports agencies have to do is spot it and develop it. "Talent appears to depend on genetics, environment, opportunity, encouragement and the effect of these variables on physical and psychological traits . . .

"However, without the 'correct' environment, namely one in which the individual is encouraged and supported, and has the opportunity to learn and practise, optimum performance will never be obtained," the report states.

Many young people never make progress because parents fail to notice or encourage their abilities.

The researchers argue that it is "possibly immoral" to separate the processes of talent detection and development and say that identifying talent should be a continuous process and not dependent on "an individual's performance during any single audition, competitive event or performance test".

Whether young people with abilities develop later on into top athletes will depend as much on their psychological and behavioural make-up as much as latent talent. Financial support, being dropped, selected or moving on to university and handling traumatic moments can all affect their involvement, the researchers say.

"Talent Identification and Development: An Academic Review", by Angela Abbot, Dave Collins, Russell Martindale and Katie Sowerby, is published by Sportscotland, price pound;20.


All the evidence from abroad shows that early specialist coaching does not produce elite athletes. "Before adolescence, diverse sports participation is more important," the research team reports.

Children who focus too early may never find the sport for which they have most potential and are "locked out". There are also dangers from intensive training and competition at too early an age.

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