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Evidence-Based Prerequisites and Precursors of Athletic Talent: A Review


Extensive findings related to nature and nurture in determining athletic talent (AT) have been reviewed. Available data demonstrate the important contribution of hereditary factors as well as the crucial importance of environmental prerequisites for identifying and developing AT. Recent publications provide examples of contemporary approaches intended to solve the problem of how to discover and nurture AT. A number of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies highlighted possibilities of revealing a predisposition to certain sports among youthful prospects, but were unable to predict attainment of world-class status. Data pertaining to Olympic champions indicate that their superiority compared with other elite athletes is determined by high intrinsic motivation, determination, dedication, persistence, and creativity. These salient manifestations of personality could be successfully recognized even in the initial stages of their preparation, where exceptionally gifted individuals manifested high learnability and a high rate of athletic improvement. Moreover, future champions were characterized by an exceptional attitude to training and a willingness to perform more voluminous and high-quality training routines. Exceptionally talented athletes in endurance, power, and combat sports attained world-class status after 4–7 years of specialized preparation, accumulating 3000–7000 h of purposeful training. This stands in contradiction to Ericsson’s theory of deliberate practice and the 10-year rule. In contrast, Olympic artistic gymnastics champions attained world-class status following an average of 9.7 years of specialized preparation, accumulating an average of 8918 h of specialized training. Apparently, the theory of 10,000 h of deliberate practice and the 10-year rule are selectively applicable to highly coordinative esthetic sports but not to general preparation trends in endurance, power, and combat sports.

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The author is grateful to Mr. Mike Garmise for editing the English text and to Dr. Boris Blumenstein for valuable comments.

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Correspondence to Vladimir B. Issurin.

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Issurin, V.B. Evidence-Based Prerequisites and Precursors of Athletic Talent: A Review. Sports Med 47, 1993–2010 (2017).

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  • Elite Athlete
  • Deliberate Practice
  • Combat Sport
  • Figure Skating
  • Psychological Skill