Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Can you put an age limit on talent?

After my blog last week on the Olympics I want to follow it up with a blog which has a slight link to the Olympics. This weeks blog is about finding out at what age are young people ready to realise their full potential and talent in their area of expertise. We have youngsters in the Olympics at the age of fourteen, sixteen year old football stars and young actors & actresses on our screens but do we need to put more age boundaries in place to control at what age young people can compete and partake in certain things?

This argument was highlighted by Team GB’s youngest Olympian Tom Daley. In the year running up to the Olympics people were talking him up as a possible Gold Medal winner but when he made his debut in the synchronized dive he and his partner finished in eighth and last place. Tom has an individual dive event still to go at the time of writing this blog but if he isn’t successful in that then there is going to be much pressure on his young shoulders. After being talked up like he was he has had added pressure to perform and if he started believing the hype he will be very disappointed when he gets back home. This fourteen year old will also have to deal with any taunts from his jealous peers at school who may make fun of his achievements.

In sports if you are going to let young people compete you have to create an age requirement which is based upon giving them the best chance to compete physically with their competition. This has to be dependent on the sport in question as some sports are more or less physically demanding than others. This age bracket doesn’t mean everyone should compete when they get to that age or that they should compete it should just be there as a minimum.

Next you have to look at if the young person is emotionally strong enough and mature enough to deal with reaching that level with their talent. There is a difference to entering a sporting event for individuals than representing your county on the biggest stage like the Olympics. So you may be ready to perform at a national or international event which doesn’t have much press coverage and where you are only competing for yourself but that doesn’t mean you are ready for the Olympics. Your talent may be good enough but your ability to handle the situation may not be good enough.

This is the same in the arts as a young person maybe emotionally ready and mature enough to handle performing at a small local venue but not ready for a huge arena with lots of press coverage and thousands of fans. Young people may be to handle and understand their ability but may not be able to deal with the adoration of fans properly without it going to their head or changing the way they feel or act.

If you look at the English Premiership football league it puts this discussion under the microscope as some teams are ready to put their youngsters in the starting line up at sixteen where some will keep them on the bench and use them sparingly to build up their experience. Again there isn’t a one size fits all approach and each young people with talent needs to be handled individually as it may be that bringing someone on to early or late in their career could have a big negative effect on their long term success.

So in summing up yes I do feel that for some things there needs to be an age bracket but on the whole it needs to be looked at on a case by case basis. Although Tom Daley may not have been as successful as he hoped it could be this experience at this age which really sets him up for a long and successful career and without it his career may not have gone on to such future heights so this needs to be taken in to consideration as well. I think people need to stop expecting so much from young people with talent but instead give them the support they need to grow and develop.

We here at Talented Young People would love to know your thoughts on this. At what age should young people be allowed to compete at the Olympics? Can you put an age limit on talent? Join in our topic of the week by going to:

Adam Sibley
Founder of the Talented Young People organisation
"Envisage it, Believe it, Achieve it!"
”Shaking up the Youth of Today”

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