Youth sport & talent development in Uganda: need for a change in mindset

Uganda: The risk of a pragmatic talent development mindset

As widely recognized Ugandan sport coaches show a narrow focus on winning. Selection for top teams and short-term results seem to be more important then long-term talent development of youth. One explanation could be ‘the pressure from above’: Sport leaders and managers expect wins, often because of monetary interests, status, reputation or addiction to winning. Secondly, there is the role of media who often show the BIG players and successes instead of the discipline needed to reach the top. People tend to idealize top players, not realizing it takes years and years for a player to reach the highest levels. One of the sport science students in my Action Research team, Ronald Kitosi (volleyball player), explains:

“So called talent identifiers don’t identify talent, they only select youth players who developed themselves already. Often coaches don’t pay attention to the players who are not yet grown, not yet been exposed  to high level coaching or not yet skillful, but show a high level of coaching ability, sensitivity to training and motivation to learn. Mostly these attitudes and characteristics are better predictors for elite success than just having the talent”

The pragmatic mindset of coaches and leaders can be destructive for young players who have the potential, but don’t get proper support to develop their talents in the long run. Top teams should also question if they realize their full potential if many talents are left behind. Why do I see so many football talents in Uganda and do the ‘Uganda Cranes’ not attend to the World Cup in Brazil?

Change the mindset: some basis questions to ask ourselves

Einstein once said: ‘problems can’t be solved within the same framework they are created’. Sport coaches and leaders need to question their basic assumptions and principles:

                                  How do we look at our youth talent?

Before going to practical solutions, we need to ask ourselves some basic questions:

1. Why do we want to develop talents?
Do we want to achieve successes and become rich on the short-term or do we want to help our youth (Community and country) to develop more holistically? What is the interrelatedness between Community sport and topsport development?

2. What are the dimensions of (holistic) talent development?
In a session with University coaches from Ndejje University we identified the following dimensions of talent identification and development:
– Generational (Y): WHY do youth athletes behave like they do and what does this mean for our training approach?
– Psychological: which coaching styles do we apply? How do we teach mental skills to our youth? What mindset do we bring in practice? A growth or a fixed mindset?
– Physical literacy: we have to start early to make children aware of their physical abilities by providing different movement and sport activities. Note: physical education is obligatory at primary schools in Uganda, in practice many schools refuse to give these important lessons.
– Relationship between coach and pupil: how does the coach connect to and motivate pupils? (think of AMO-model of Ryan & Deci: Ability, Motivation, Opportunity)
Off course there are more dimensions to add to his framework, for example: economy, society, environment, sustainability, ethics, philosophy and…….? Add your dimensions by giving a comment on this article.

3. What do we know already about talent identification and development?
Research has shown:
– talent is dependent on genetics, environment, encouragement and the effect of these on physical and psychological traits;
– talent may be lost or never recognised because of lack of opportunities;
– determinants of potential and performance at adolescence are likely to differ and hard to predict;
– it takes ten years of concentrated training to reach the highest levels;
– the quality, type and intensity of training and encouragement of parents are important;
– children practice more when they are progressing and finding the practice pleasurable.
Off course we can think of more findings and practical experiences coaches can share with each other.

Five possible directions for the future

Researchers in all domains attempt to find ways of identifying talent. Companies search for the best employees, institutes for the best researchers and music companies for the best artists. Though different kind of talents and competences are needed, success in all domains relates to discipline, self-awareness, self-reflection and cooperative skills. If a player won’t make it to the top, he/she still can learn many useful life skills through sports. That’s why I propose the following directions for the future:

1. Use the experience of top athletes
Former and current top athletes have many ideas about how to reach to and stay at the top. These experienced athletes might instill youth with necessary values and skills. Moreover, they could share stories about their life-changing experiences through sports. Is it possible to attract and retain former) top athletes as Community (talent) development coaches?

2. Organize sports value intervision with different stakeholders
Bring different stakeholders (parents, coaches, leaders, pupils) together and share visions & experiences to raise awareness about how the develop the talents. Share practical wisdom about how sport values, like togetherness and self-control, can be transferred to other domains of life: what should be the role/contribution of sport coaches? Through diversity people learn more.

3. Life guidance counseling
Many youth and also students in Uganda lack a personal coach who can guide and encourage them in their personal, sports and career development. Parents are often not aware of what is needed to develop their child’s talent or desperately want them to grow in a career direction a child intrinsicely refuses.
A life guidance counselor could be a linking-pin between parents, sport coaches and teachers and help to balance different expectations and views and build (together with the child) an ambitious and realistic career perspective.

4. Monitor & evaluate the long-term development of youth
Coaches and players should frequently reflect if they are still on track when it comes to the set future long-term goals. Mature athletes might be an interesting source of knowledge, because they can reflect on what moments, life skills and persons made a difference in their careers. Development should be defined and monitored in a broad way, including important life skills (i.e. stewardship, self-control & self-awareness).

5. Develop procedures on how to identify talents within different sports
Though similarities exist between the talents and skills needed for different sports, different talent selection and development tools are needed. Therefore its important coaches of the same sport share their vision and experiences and come up with procedures to select the right players.

As this article shows coaches must be eager and willing to learn. From Coach to Coach offers a platform to share stories, knowledge and ideas when it comes to talent identification and development. In this way I hope to have a little contribution to the qualification of Uganda for the World Cup in 2018, or 2022, or 2026…!

By: Daan Oxener – From Coach to Coach
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2 Responses

  1. thanks for the insights on the chaged mind its important to help our young people to realize that change is inevitable and they need to be adoptable to the changing moments in their lives with a positive attitude.

    life is a school of experience and requires people with great determination.

    • Daan says:

      Thank you for this great quote David: ‘life is a school of experience and requires people with great determination’. I will put it at the quotes page. Let us unite to encourage and support our children with a positive mindset and attitude.

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