The domain of sports expertise is a much-discussed topic, with many researchers searching to find the one ‘golden thread’ that provides the answer to all coaches’ requirements. However, this research suggests there is no remedy that solves all and that the uniqueness of each individual athlete’s journey towards excellence is clear. In this article, the Football Association’s Talent Identification Manager, Nick Levett, discusses the research behind talent identification.

In a recent study, four interviews were conducted with current England U21 football players to see whether there were any key themes from their unique pathways that could help the people responsible for talent identification and support coach development.

Four international players, registered for three different Premier League teams and one Championship team, were selected for the side that represented England at the UEFA U21 European Championships in 2015 in Czech Republic. These players had 25 appearances between them in the qualifying campaign and nine appearances at the finals stage.

This is their narrative.


Talent identification, the process of “recognising and selecting players who show potential to excel at a more advanced level”1, is crucial within professional football to make sure the right players enter the system. However, clubs have varying scouting procedures and, traditionally, many selections are often completed based on anthropometric measures prior to deeper talent facets and features.

Consequently, talent development is about the “provision of the most appropriate environments for athletes to accelerate their learning and performance”2 but in order to maximise the effectiveness it is important to understand the background of an elite player and key contributing factors to their development.

It is clear that expert coaches value understanding the background of their athletes in order to personalise their education. By understanding the motivators and influencing factors on a player’s pathway we can help them gain maximum effectiveness. Whether that player goes on to become an established senior international is subject to many contributing factors but a coach can support them in achieving their potential.

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Nick Levett
Nick Levett
Nick Levett is the former Talent ID Manager at The FA and now works at UK Sport as the Head of Talent and Performance.
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