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Understanding the “gut instinct” of expert coaches during talent identification

journal contribution
posted on 2021-01-06, 00:42 authored by Alexandra RobertsAlexandra Roberts, D Greenwood, M Stanley, C Humberstone, F Iredale, A Raynor
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Coaches are an integral part of talent identification in sport and are often used as the “gold standard” against which scientific methods of talent identification are compared. However, their decision-making during this process is not well understood. In this article, we use an ecological approach to explore talent identification in combat sports. We interviewed twenty-four expert, international-level coaches from the Olympic disciplines of boxing, judo, and taekwondo (age: 48.7 + 7.5 years; experience: 20.8 + 8.3 years). Findings indicated that when coaches identify talent they rely on “gut instinct”: intuitive judgements made without conscious thought, used to direct attention to particular athletes or characteristics. Our analysis revealed four major contributors to coaches’ intuition: experiential knowledge, temporal factors, seeing athletes in context, and what can be worked with. Our findings demonstrate that i) athlete selections may be influenced by the coaches’ perceived ability to improve certain athletes (rather than solely on athlete ability); and ii) “instinctual” decisions are the result of years of experience, time spent with the athlete, and the context surrounding the decision. Based on these findings, we recommend that future research focuses on the duration and conditions that are required for coaches to confidently and reliably identify talented athletes.


Publication Date



Journal of Sports Sciences







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