Natalie Dunman explains the process behind finding Britain's future Olympic and Paralympic champions and believes "There is a place for everybody in sport."
Raise Your Game: Can you describe the talent identification process?
Natalie Dunman: We have a number of campaigns which includes Talent 2016 - Tall and Talented. This campaign is primarily directed towards rowing and basketball, but we are also looking at some other Olympic sports as well.
RYG: What is involved in launching a campaign?
ND: We set a profile in launching a campaign to get it out to as many individuals as possible who fit the criteria. We then invite them to apply online and ask them to come along to a testing day with Talent ID scientists and coaches from different sports.
Here they'll be put through a number of assessments, normally physical to start off, which measure height, arm span, upper body strength and power, endurance and speed. A number of them will then be selected to go along to a more sport specific assessment day, where we start looking at some more psychological and skill based attributes.
RYG: Where do you get the data from? How do you get the profiles set up?
ND: It is quite a lengthy process. You start by looking at your most successful athletes, such as Olympic and world champions, and look at what characteristics they possess. That data is collected over a number of years and it also relies on some coaching expertise.
Many of the coaches that work within each of the sports have been doing this for years and they're absolute experts at identifying who and what they need. We'll work with them to develop that profile using all of the data that's been collected.
RYG: What about the people who decide it's not for them, do you keep them involved in sport?
ND: If they're really interested in the sport, but they aren't making it to the standards that we're looking for, we'd encourage them to continue with the sport but at a slightly different level. We'd give them details of their local clubs and coaches and encourage them to go on and take up that sport.
If they really don't like it, and want to go back to the sport they were doing before, or they want to look at another opportunity, then we would encourage them to do that. However, if we thought that they were really talented in this sport and they just didn't like it, then we would spend more time working with them to see if there was something we could change or maybe look at a talent transfer.
We had a number of examples when we did Sporting Giants last time round where some really talented guys weren't quite right for rowing, so we switched them into canoeing.
RYG: What skills do you focus on in the training camps? How do you make sure the athletes can cope with the experience?
ND: Many of the themes that you've have on Raise Your Game are the things that we look at. The physical side and the actual sports specific skills are just two parts to the puzzle. We're looking for people that have drive, determination and commitment, and are willing to keep trying when the going gets tough.
RYG: How important is the athlete-coach relationship?
ND: Absolutely essential. You've got the athletes, but if you didn't have the fantastic coaches none of this would happen. The coaches have special qualities as they are working with athletes that are perhaps coming into a sport at a slightly older age than normal.
RYG: How do you keep the athletes focused on the long term goal?
ND: When they first come in we say the ultimate goal is to win more medals in 2016, but there are also other goals along the way. The coaches are very good at setting intermediate and short term goals. There will also be intermediate skill based assessments along the way. Hopefully these will keep people motivated and allow them to see that they're progressing all the way through to 2016.
RYG: How do you inspire more girls to get involved in sport?
ND: We started our Girls for Gold campaign partly because when we ran Sporting Giants there was a massive imbalance of male to female applications. We know that there are lots of girls out there that are sporty but are just in the wrong sport.
We really wanted to try and reach those people and try and give them an opportunity to come, be tested and see what they could be good at. We used female role models such as Vicky Pendleton and Shelly Rudman to front the campaign and they talked about their experiences.
RYG: How did you become a Talent ID scientist?
ND: I was always really interested in sport when I was at school. I swam to a fairly good standard, but I never quite made it to the next level. I like to think that if one of these programmes was around then I would have achieved it.
I went to university and studied sports science and then went on to do a Masters in sports science as well. Whilst I was in university I tried to get as much experience working with sports as possible. I was lucky enough to get an internship with British Swimming and worked with their sports science team for two years. I also completed an internship in physiology with the English Institute of Sport, then worked in physiology and eventually Talent ID science.
RYG: Which is more important talent or attitude?
NA: I'd say that attitude is actually part of talent. You have a certain talent in a certain area, but we're looking for people that have all the pieces of the jigsaw.
RYG: Do you agree that anyone can participate in sport, regardless of their ability?
ND: We are looking for people that can go to the top, but there is always a pathway for everybody. Whether that is going down the gym or playing for your local hockey team. There is a place for everybody in sport so we absolutely encourage everyone to get involved.
RYG: Have you noticed a big increase in people applying with London 2012 on the horizon?
ND: Our team came about as a result of London winning the bid for the Olympics 2012, so our first campaigns were focused around London. We thought that there would be a bigger interest because of London however, when we collected information from athletes on why they put themselves forward, the home Olympics didn't come out very highly. The main motivation was the desire to win an Olympic medal followed by a curiosity to try a new sport.
RYG: What would your advice be for anyone wanting to get involved in a sport?
ND: Take every opportunity that comes your way. If you are interested in a particular sport then go out there and find out how you can become involved and grab that opportunity. Being involved in sport at any level is great. There's a strong social element to it and you learn about motivation and commitment.
RYG: If you could have a perfect Olympic athlete, what skills would they have?
ND: A really strong drive to keep going when the going gets tough, the ability to perform under pressure and mental toughness.
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