Talent
It has been said that talent is only another name for the love of a thing. 'If you love anything enough to try to find out what is good, to train your judgment and to train your abilities up to what that judgment tells you is good, then good work is only a matter of time'. A talented skater is one who is physically gifted, has been well trained and who loves to practice. Loving to practice is a prerequisite for the other factors to be of value. If you donít love to skate and you donít want to practice you wonít get anywhere, it doesnít matter how Ďtalentedí you are.

To identify possible future high-performance athletes it is important to capture as many physically gifted, well trained, Ďskating-loversí as possible at as early an age as possible. Love for skating may grow, but isnít likely to grow enough to result in high performance if it hasnít revealed itself by the time the skaters enter the 'Training' years. This isnít to say talent canít be developed at any age, but young skaters shaded in blue at the left are those who have the best chance of becoming a World Leading performer .
Some children seem more advanced for their age; they land jumps sooner or they may be faster or stronger. These ones are often labeled, 'talented'. Raw talent is a combination of heredity and personality as shown on the Free Skating Performance chart. Refined talent also includes training. The first two factors greatly influence one's ability to take advantage of training. Genuinely talented children exhibit not only raw talent but the desire and ability to pursue correct technique and can withstand the rigours of training both mentally and physically.

Complete talent is extremely rare. It is not that hard to find children with a healthy body capable of performing triple jumps. It is less common to find ones who also have the personality to do so. To have both, plus the financial, emotional and physical support of parents, plus the hunger, plus the ability to tolerate training as well as uphold commitments to schoolwork and other activities plus the good fortune of linking up with a competent coach is serendipitous indeed.

Early maturation should not be confused with talent. Early maturation can make simple skills easier to complete, albeit, not necessarily correctly. The disadvantages of less efficient technique will become apparent when the skater tries to employ this technique when executing more advanced skills.These skaters may place higher in early competition because they can outperform weaker skaters in simple tasks but acquiring correct, efficient technique is still a fundamental requirement for long-term success. Figure skating overall favours late maturation because of the favourable weight-to-strength ratio and because the delay in maturation provides a longer period of time for skaters to acquire correct technique before their body changes.

"...early maturation in boys is an advantage in some sports, but the opposite applies in girls...there is an apparent delay in maturity in sports where females who maintain preadolescent physique seem to have an advantage. An ordering of sports on a continuum from participants demonstrating early maturation through to late maturation might be as follows: alpine skiing, field events, swimming, synchronized swimming, track events, diving, figure skating, gymnastics...Early maturing girls undergo a socialization process which does not motivate them any more to excel in physical exercise. On the other hand, late-maturing girls are older chronologically when they attain menarche and have not yet experienced the social pressures regarding competitive athletics for girls and/or are more able to cope with the social pressures." 1

All skaters make errors, even talented ones. It takes a trained eye to determine whether the error is serious and/or chronic or just a part of normal progress. For example, skills under construction are often slow and end in a fall. Although speed is important in the later phases, skills should not necessarily be learned with speed. Speed plus technique is desirable but speed without technique can be a disaster developmentally so caution should be exercised when skaters are advised by well meaning parties to 'skate faster'. However, the capacity to skate fast properly should be trained as early as possible so speed can be added to each particular skill at the appropriate time.

Unfortunately, completed, but poorly executed skills are frequently rewarded in the early years so children are tempted to perform them any way they can. Executing skills incorrectly to keep up with others skaters, win competitions, express the talent adults tell them they have or adhere to arbitrary schedules causes some, especially the physically mature and the talented, to develop technique detrimental to future progress. Once acquired it is nearly impossible to change.

Early competitive success based on the incorrect execution of simple skills is not a reliable indicator of future success. In fact, pursuing poor technique is a good way to limit future success. The risk of this developing is high in talented but poorly trained skaters, those who succumb to undisciplined parental or coaching pressure or those who have matured early and are utilizing their greater strength and leverage to compensate for a lack of efficiency in technique.

It is well to remember also that no one- not parents, coaches, judges or talent scouts- is able to accurately predict or guarantee future success based on early performance especially if evaluations of talent are based on isolated performances or merely the results of competition. Any assessment of talent at a young age must include training and personality as well as heredity and be based on repeated assessment over a prolonged period of time.

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1 Borms, J.: The Growth of Physical Characteristics in Male and Female Children. Journal of Sports Medicine, 19, 1995.
   pp 373-392