A golfer’s ability does not always shine through immediately, but as Dr Kitrina Douglas explains, under the right direction there’s a good chance that it will.

Ladies European Tour, Holly Clyburn

A golfer’s ability does not always shine through immediately, but as Dr Kitrina Douglas explains, under the right direction there’s a good chance that it will.

In recent years increasing amounts of money are being invested in talent identification schemes and golf is not alone in investing time and money into identifying, at a younger and younger age, individuals who seem to have ‘what it takes’ to get to the top. It may not have escaped your notice that there is also a great deal of kudus associated with those who can say they ‘spotted’ or ‘found’ the player who goes on to excel. Once identified, the talented ‘chosen’ few are then put on the treadmill of sporting expectations and given the seemingly ‘best’ advice. Of course, treadmills work for some people, but not others, and talent schemes, while well intentioned, don’t always get it right. Some of those who don’t get spotted drop out and we never hear their story, while others go on to excel, despite the lack of investment or rejection.

So, while I’m not against helping any young person with a passion for their sport attempt to improve or excel, I have some concerns with our seemingly unchecked belief that talent identification schemes are the best way forward for sport, young people or our culture and society. Let me help explain a few of my concerns.

Firstly, ‘talent’ is a rather nebulous quality, we are often only said to have it when we have achieved something. Then it is used in retrospect when people come forward with, “I always knew she had talent” or “I spotted her first.”

I experienced this as a 17-year-old. Anyone who had an opinion about me dropping out of school to play golf for a year and thinking I could become a professional when I hadn’t even played the game thought I was at the least unwise or at worst very foolish. A decade after winning amateur and professional tournaments there were plenty of people who said they knew I would make it. Funny thing hindsight!

The point is this. We, and by this I mean the scientific and sport performance community, don’t always get it right, so we need a system that doesn’t exclude or make it difficult for the unlikely golfer to receive guidance and help, we need not to be turning enthusiastic young people away even if it looks unlikely they will exceed.

Secondly, governing bodies are often looking for the next world number one. While some golfers and young people have this dream not all of us do. It shouldn’t be an imperative. Some golfers want to play the tour, others make a team, and still others want to win one event. In my book that’s ok. ‘Be the best you can be,’ is a more achievable aim to ‘being better than everyone else’ and recognise that our health isn’t certain.

Given that ‘talent’ is such a difficult thing to define it seems to me that if we are going to invest we should invest in those who want to improve, who are enthusiastic and are prepared to work at it. When coaching I have observed that it is often the youngsters (and older golfers actually) who aren’t particularly skilled or impressive but who work in a diligent way, who gain the skills to win tournaments. Whereas, quite often, the ones who are said to be ‘talented,’ seem to assume that improvement is theirs by right, are more likely to give up when things don’t go to plan and are less inclined to spend hours refining their skills.

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