An Elite Contribution

An Elite Contribution

Tuesday, 01 December 2015

Media Type
NIE News March 2015,


Above: Prof Michael Chia (second from left) with experts from Canada, Australia and the USA

Physical Education and Sports Science Academic Group Professor and Dean for Faculty Affairs, Professor Michael Chia joined an elite group of 16 international researchers and members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at Lausanne in Switzerland, from 4 to 7 November 2014, in a caucus that focused on issues of talent identification, training and development in elite youth sport. Emanating from the 16-topic discussions that ranged from participation to abuse in elite youth sport, is a comprehensive consensus paper that will provide guidelines and recommendations for elite sport youth development that is holistic and healthy for the immediate future.

Prof Chia presented on the issues that are associated with early identification of sport talent, the inconsistent and irregular use of nomenclature of what constitutes ‘sport talent’, the group of variables that contribute to elite sport success, the validity and reliability of testing for talent, the efficacy of existing developmental models and the need for a more open and broader definition of elite sport success beyond the winning of medals.

In his deliberate discussion of the topic, Prof Chia shared that the long time horizon of between 10 and 15 years from childhood talent detection to adult talent actualisation in elite sport achievement is vulnerable to the vicissitudes of focus and fickleness in the lives of athletes. The balance of evidence suggests a possible disconnect with mixed results between advocated talent development systems enacted to support future adult elite sporting achievements and the evidence of actual outcomes. Complicating these issues are the differences across country, culture and context and the indeterminate interactions among current unknown and undocumented factors.

He proposed that success at elite level sport performance stems from a combination of numerous factors which vary based on the socio-cultural and politico-economic context of a country. Intrinsic (genetics, aptitude, adaptation to training, motivation, psychological skills) as well as extrinsic (environment, athlete development pathway, coaches, family, educators) factors work in complex synchrony to determine an athlete’s success in sport. Stakeholders need to acknowledge the complexity of these factors in determining an athlete’s level of success and limit ascribing the development of the elite-athlete to singular attributes. An integrated approach, an appreciation of the various contributory factors and a porosity of talent transfer is needed to optimise athlete development and elite sport success.

The discussion that supervened among the international group of experts from Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, Italy, France, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States of America and Singapore was contentious, controversial and yet collaborative at the same time.

Prof Chia’s summative recommendation to the IOC medical commission is to: “Accept porosity and flexibility of talent transitions in sport as the norm and allow for a wider definition of success (meaningful and life-forming experiences) with the well-being of the elite young athlete as a central focus.”

By April 2015, the group must have a consensus paper on youth athlete development ready for publication in the IOC-supported injury prevention and health protection edition of the “British Journal of Sports Medicine”.

In his words, Prof Chia described his experience at the IOC meeting, “It is a rare honour to be able to represent NIE and Singapore at the meeting of international experts which he described as meaningful and enriching; and he looks forward to this continued collaboration.

This article first appeared in NIE's quarterly publication NIE News in March 2015.