Talent development (TD) is a complex and dynamic process which influences the development of athletes in a multidimensional way, with the ultimate goal of maximizing their potential. Researchers used to emphasize various sources of influence on talent development. The focus of respective models lies, for example, on the early years of expertise development due to practice (Coutinho, Mesquita, & Fonseca, 2016), on athlete variables like motivation and physiology, and/or on social influences, coaches, parents, and clubs in particular (Gulbin, Croser, Morley, & Weissensteiner, 2013). In the following, we will concentrate on environmental variables, and—as some models of athlete development (see Gulbin et al., 2013; Li, Wang, & Pyun, 2014) tend to rely on Gagné’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DGMT)—we will shortly introduce this model first and afterwards proceed to the environmental aspects of athlete talent development in particular.
In the DGMT, Gagné (2020) distinguished between giftedness and talent. Giftedness is understood as the possession of natural abilities in any given domain (e.g., sensorimotor), which places someone in the top 10% of their peers. On the other hand, talent describes the mastery of skills through systematic training in a given field (e.g., sport; see Gagné, 2020). As such, talent is seen as influenceable over time, both through individual effort on the part of the person and through systematic support tailored to the person by the environment (Gulbin et al., 2013). Indeed, Collins and MacNamara (2017, p. 6) emphasize the high importance of achieving an optimal fit of “developing abilities in an appropriately challenging environment.” This highlights that “rather than focusing merely on intrapersonal factors such as athletes’ physical traits, key TD environmental factors should be identified and enhanced” (Li et al., 2015, p. 1831).
A crucial factor for such an athlete’s sport development pathway is the talent development environment (TDE), which refers to an organized system influencing the progression of athletes (Li et al., 2014; Martindale, Collins, & Daubney, 2005). This means that environmental variables should combine into a system with the goal of improving athletes’ performance and at the same time encourage their personal development. Most importantly, “this encompasses a more holistic ecological approach by examining the broader developmental context or environment in which athlete development takes place rather than focusing solely on the individual athlete” (Coutinho et al., 2016, p. 286). Over the past 15 to 20 years, there has been an increase in the number of researchers investigating the nature and structure of effective TDEs (e.g., Henriksen, Stambulova, & Roessler, 26,27,a, b; Martindale, Collins, & Abraham, 2007). Based on a literature review, Li et al. (2014) present a taxonomy of important environmental variables. Based on Gagné’s DGMT they distinguish three categories, namely milieu, individuals, and provisions. Milieu includes, among other things, sport culture and sport policy. Individuals is synonymous with social agents in the personal environment of the athlete, i.e., parents, coaches, and peers. Provisions focus on long-term development, quality preparation, and effective communication between coaches, managers, and club staff on the one hand and athletes on the other.
Interestingly, quantitative and qualitative research alike have shown that there are a number of factors that consistently seem to characterize successful environments across different contexts, sports, and cultures. Considering qualitative research, there are a number of studies that present key aspects of successful environments. For example, Martindale et al. (2007) studied a multisport sample of UK-based expert talent development coaches and found through interviews that four key principles emerged through effective environments. These included clear long-term aims and methods, wide-ranging coherent support and messages, an emphasis on appropriate development not early success, and individualized and ongoing development opportunities. Since then, a number of case studies of effective talent development environments across different cultures, sports, and contexts have found wider support for these key principles (e.g., Aalberg & Sæther, 2016; Gledhill & Harwood, 2015; Henriksen et al., 26,27,a, b, 2011, 2013; Larsen, Alfermann, Henriksen, & Christensen, 2013; Schacht & Kiewra, 2018; Seanor, Schinke, Stambulova, Ross, & Kpazai, 2017). As such, the features of successful athletic talent development environment case studies summarized by Henriksen and Stambulova (2017) include a focus on long-term development, strong and coherent organizational culture, integration of efforts, training groups with supportive relationships, proximal role models, support for sporting goals by a wider environment, training that allows for diversification, and support for the development of psychosocial skills.
Qualitative research has highlighted important principles of best practice, and usefully exemplified context-specific examples of how these principles have been implemented in various sport environments. Quantitative work has investigated the relationship between the environment and important developmental outcomes. This quantitative work has been made possible through development and use of the Talent Development Environment Questionnaire (TDEQ) (Martindale et al., 2010). The TDEQ was developed as a monitoring tool, “emphasizing the generic environmental features useful for facilitating the development of excellence across sports, stage/age, gender, and culture” (Martindale et al., p. 1216), to assess the perceived environment in the eyes of young developing athletes. The holistic key features were identified using a triangulated approach, including a literature review (Martindale et al., 2005), interviews with expert talent development coaches working within the United Kingdom, and interviews with developing athletes embedded within the talent pathway (Martindale et al., 2007). As outlined above, this led to four main areas on which effective talent development should be based, namely long-term aims and methods, wide-ranging coherent messages and support, emphasis on development not early success, and individualized and ongoing development.
Originally, 135 items were created based on these key factors which were further assessed by a panel of experts (sport psychologists, talent coaches) and by 82 developing athletes, aged 13 to 20 years (commenting on comprehensibility, relevance, and similarity of items). This process led to a 68-item questionnaire which was completed by 590 “junior athletes with identified potential” (Martindale et al., 2010, p. 1212), aged 13 to 21 years. The conducted exploratory factor analysis of this version with oblique rotation, principal axis factoring extraction, and reliability tests resulted in a 59-item seven-factor structure, the TDEQ‑7 (Martindale et al., 2010). The internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha) of the seven factors ranged from 0.62 to 0.98.
The questionnaire has been further developed since its first publication, and in its most recent English language version (Li et al., 2015) it consists of 25 items with a five-factor structure (TDEQ-5), namely (1) long-term development focus (LTD), (2) communication (COM), (3) alignment of expectations (AOE), (4) holistic quality preparation (HQP), and (5) support network (SN). LTD describes (coaches’ or clubs’) initiatives to facilitate athletes’ long-term success. COM is concerned with the extent to which the coach communicates effectively with the athletes. AOE is focused on setting and communicating goals that are relevant for the athletes’ sport development. HQP includes interventions (e.g., mental skills training) for holistic development, and SN is focused on the social network (e.g., parents, professionals) that is available to the athlete. The five factors are described in greater detail in Table 1, including the items. The 25 items of the TDEQ‑5 are each answered on six-point Likert scales from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 6 (“strongly agree”). Three of these factors (LTD, COM, HQP) correspond to the provision category presented by Li et al. (2014), the individual environment is exemplified by the factors SN and AOE.
To date, research using the TDEQ‑7 or the TDEQ‑5 has included investigation of the role of the talent development environment in predicting important outcomes such as progression and athlete motivation. For example, Martindale, Collins, Douglas, and Whike (2013) found that the TDEQ factors quality preparation and understanding the athlete were significant predictors of the progression rates of academy athletes to professional status. Other research investigating the relationship between the environment and athlete characteristics such as stress and wellbeing (Ivarsson et al., 2015, Thomas, Gastin, Abbott, & Main, 2021), mental toughness (Li, Martindale, & Sun, 2019), burnout (Li, Wang, & Pyun, 2017; Thomas et al., 2021), and motivational attributes (e.g., Wang, Sproule, McNeill, Martindale, & Lee, 2011, 2016) have highlighted the significance and positive role of environmental factors such as long-term development focus, communication, support network, and holistic quality preparation. In a longitudinal study with three points of measurement during one year, 195 Swedish young male soccer players filled in the TDEQ‑7 and measures of well-being. The perceived TDE at time 1 was categorized into three classes of high (n = 28 players), moderate (n = 118), and low quality (n = 51). A high TDE level was “characterized by a climate where the coach and the club have a clear and communicated vision for the players’ football development. The players have, with assistance from the coach been able to set clear performance goals, which are continuously evaluated and have a long-term development focus” (Ivarsson et al., 2015, p. 18). In addition, the TDE was rated higher in communication, understanding the athlete, and the support network than the TDE of moderate or low quality. The differences between the three TDE groups remained similar over the whole observation period. In addition, players with a high-quality TDE experienced less stress and increased subjective well-being over time (Ivarsson et al., 2015). This mental health development could be traced back to the TDE quality.
In a study with 92 Norwegian (U19) male academy soccer players who were affiliated either with highly ranked (top-five) or low-ranked (bottom-five) clubs filled in the TDEQ‑5. Independent of club quality, the players reported a highly supportive club environment with a focus on long-term development and social support. But significant differences emerged in the three other TDE dimensions of HQP, communication, and alignment of expectations, with higher scores for the highly ranked club environments (Gangsø, Aspvik, Mehus, Høigaard, & Sæther, 2021).
Research has also focused on capturing relevant information about the relative strengths and weaknesses of specific talent development environments in order to inform applied practitioners, coaches, and others responsible for the development and management of such environments (e.g., Gangsø et al., 2021; Gesbert, Crettaz von Roten, & Hauw, 2021; Gledhill & Harwood, 2019; Mills, Butt, Maynard, & Harwood, 2014; Thomas et al., 2021). Indeed, taking this a step further, Hall, Jones, and Martindale (2019) highlighted the utility of the TDEQ to not only identify relative strengths and weaknesses, but also to guide the development and evaluation of evidence-based interventions within elite sport contexts. A summary of research studies conducted so far with the different versions of the TDEQ can be found in Electronic Supplement Table ESM 1. When summarizing this research, it becomes obvious that it was undertaken for one or more of the following reasons: (1) developing a quantitative and valid measuring instrument for the TDE. This initiative started with the TDEQ‑7 (Martindale et al., 2010, 2013) and its modifications (TDEQ‑5 in particular; Li et al., 2015). This process of measurement optimization and of adaptation to different languages and cultures (Caribbean culture, Chinese, French, Greek, Polish, Spanish) is still ongoing and is the main objective of our study. (2) Another focus of research deals with the question of which aspects of athlete development (e.g., personality, mental health, performance) could be influenced by or traced back to the TDE. In this tradition, studies were undertaken in a number of countries, like China (Li et al., 2017), Greece (Andronikos et al., 2021), Korea (Wang et al., 2016), Singapore (Wang et al., 2011), Sweden (Ivarsson et al., 2015), and the United Kingdom (Mills et al., 2014). (3) Finally, the objective of research may focus on intervention in the field of talent environments by improving those aspects that are rated low (Gesbert et al., 2021; Hall et al., 2019). This research is quite rare to date and should definitely be expanded, preferably in combination with longitudinal designs and with measures of athletes’ variables like psychological skills or mental toughness.
The usefulness of measuring talent development experiences from an evidence-based perspective using the TDEQ has been shown through both enhancing our understanding of TDEs and also through driving applied practice. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising to see a number of translations of the TDEQ and TDEQ‑5 emerging in the literature. These include Spanish (Brazo-Sayavera, Olivares, Andronikos, & Martindale, 2017), Portuguese (Costa, Grazina, Miragaia, Crisóstomo, & de Carvalho, 2017), Swedish (Ivarsson et al., 2015), Korean (see Wang et al., 2016), Chinese (Li, Martindale, Wu, & Si, 2018), Polish (Siekańska & Wojtowicz, 2017), Norwegian (Gangsø et al., 2021), and French versions (Gesbert et al., 2021). However, to date, there exists no German TDEQ translation. Given the influence and renowned quality of sports in German speaking countries, namely Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, it seems pertinent to expand the possibilities of TDEQ-related research in these sports contexts.
In conclusion, it is widely agreed that environmental factors play a significant role in talent development. Nonetheless, attempts to systematize environmental influences are rare (for an exception, see Larsen et al., 2013). Therefore, questionnaires like the TDEQ, which enable quantification of the quality of environmental factors (Martindale et al., 2010), are an important contribution to investigate and identify key factors of talent development. As such, the aim of this study was to translate the TDEQ‑5 into German and test its psychometric properties with a sample of elite youth athletes across different sports.