How do you know if your child is talented at sport?

The other day, I saw a tweet about a webinar for parents of children aged 8-12 who are talented at sport. And I thought, how do you know that your child is talented at sport at that age?

My own son is 17. He came fourth in the long jump at English Schools national athletics championships. He is also very high on the UK rankings. He is, without a doubt, talented at sport.

But did I know that he was talented when he was 8? Or 12?

No, I didn’t.

I knew he was ‘quite good’ at sport.

At primary school, they only noticed that he was ‘quite good’ in year 5. His primary school was pretty dreadful for sport and PE anyway. There was also a definite misconception that a child who is clever (he was the brightest kid they’d had at the school in forever) can’t be good at sport. (That could be a whole other blogpost.)

Every year, years 3 to 6 took part in an athletics competition against other local schools. My daughter took part right from year 3. My son, the boy who just came fourth in a huge national athletics competition, didn’t get picked until year 5.

In year 7, his PE teacher told us he was ‘one of the best sportsmen in the cohort’. In year 12, I suspect they would say he was the best.

He was always one of the best players in his football and rugby team. One of the best. Not the best. And his football team wasn’t even in the top league locally.

So he was one of the best football players in a league 2 local boys’ team.

Did that indicate that he was a talented sportsman?

Possibly it did. He was an all-rounder and that is a good place to start.

So how do parents know if they are raising a child who is talented at sport?

One of the biggest things to look out for is how fast they run. If they can run fast, they’re already opening up a whole world of sports for themselves. Running isn’t just key to athletics. Being able to run fast is important in pretty much all the team sports kids will do at school – football, cricket, netball, hockey and rugby. And did you see how fast those girls in the Olympics sprinted before hitting the vault in gymnastics?

Balance is another really key skill for a talented sportsperson. Obviously it’s important for gymnastics, but it’s also important for team sports like rugby. When you’re running with the ball and you need to weave in and out of the opposition, you’ve really got to keep your balance! It’s really key to athletics too, particularly throwing events.

The other big one is co-ordination – both hand-eye co-ordination and co-ordination of your body. Hand-eye co-ordination is essential for racket sports, cricket and netball. Co-ordination of the body – control of the arms, legs, hands and feet – is essential for pretty much all sports. Good co-ordination helps you run or jump in a straight line and not fall over your feet or crash into the opposition. It helps you to swim in a controlled way – and if your body is perfectly under control you’re going to swim at your fastest.

So there are ways to spot if you are raising a talented young sportsperson, even if they only appear to be ‘quite good’ at sport.

With young sportspeople, it is really important to encourage them to do as much sport as possible and to vary what they do. So many top sportspeople represented their counties or were part of the academies for different sports as children. Some had to take the decision as teenagers whether to specialise in football or cricket.

Football is a great game, which brings a lot of joy to a lot of people, but parents and kids should never pin their hopes on football stardom. Kids should play football for the fun of it, but try rugby, cricket, athletics, tennis and swimming too.

Like my son, they might just find their talent lies elsewhere. It is just a case of unearthing it…

football, sport, children's football

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. My two are useless at sport and I mean that in the nicest possible way. My eldest just doesn’t run well, doesn’t have good balance or co-ordination and hates every sport she has tried. My youngest is a trier, she will give sports a try but just doesn’t have that natural talent. They are more talented at things which don’t require moving. lol

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    • Ha ha, love that you say ‘in the nicest possible way’. Not everyone can be good at sport or enjoy it and it’s good that they have other talents and things that they enjoy.
      I can’t imagine having kids who aren’t good at sport, as the whole family just loves it. Even my least sporty child is at least average at sport.

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  2. I think generally even at a young age you can spot potential and natural talent. My brother was a case in point – great coordination, picked up every sport easily, was winning most events at sports day, and was in several teams – at primary being put forward for county training in 2 sports way ahead of his age group. N is the opposite – he’s got good coordination with a golf club, picked up hockey (similar action) easily with little training and is on a par if not better than kids at school who’ve been playing for a team for a few years. But apart from that (and determination to work hard) he’s not a natural sportsman. We also have one of his friends, who’s brilliant at running and swimming (she does triathlons too). Her parents are also keen runners, and at 10, she was getting better park run speeds than people I work with who do a lot of sport. Apart from Y5 and 6 when the cross country wasn’t run due to Covid, she won every local schools event, plus the county and was going through to regionals.

    So much of sport is relative too – this is why I think it’s so important for them to be able to play competitions to find their level. N is technically way ahead of his friends in their team, although one other can slog it out and beat him. But put him in their division 2 team in the county their club is from and he gets beaten (mostly easily) because that county is way ahead in tennis than our county, where there are a few kids way ahead, but generally the overall level is lower. If our team was playing in our county, they’d be in division 1 (there is no division 2) and would be able to win a lot more games.

    I suppose the natural ability and then the potential isn’t always seen at an early age, and that’s why the Olympics pathway sports route picks up on ability and potential later in life, in late teens as later bloomers may have a body type perfect for other sports they may never have tried or thought of.

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    • It sounds like your brother and N’s friend are/ were exceptional at sport, which makes it easier to spot. My son wasn’t like that. As I say, he was only ever ‘quite good’. It wasn’t helped by the fact that his primary school did very little sport and did seem to have this fixed view that clever kids can’t be good at sport. I still remember his absolute heartbreak at being left out of the school football team. A few years later, he was top scorer in the league!
      I think it’s easier for parents who come from a sporty background themselves to spot potential and point kids in the right direction. We never knew what opportunities were out there, but we know so much more now after a few seasons with my son competing. We’ve also learned about rugby academies along the way, as he was training with Gloucester until year 10, when a fractured pelvis cut short his rugby career.
      You’re right about sport being relative too. Gloucestershire as a whole isn’t renowned for sport- probably a lack of facilities compared to big cities is partly to blame. Although my son is county, South West and Midlands champion at long jump, so he’s doing OK!

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  3. I think those with natural talent are easy to spot. From the start of y7 there was a boy who stood out in our son’s class and he always is in the school newsletter whenever there’s something to do with sport. I can see him definitely being the top sports child when he gets to your son’s age too. Saying that though he trains a lot.

    My oldest three have been naturally good, but the older two haven’t wanted to put in any effort.

    I think you can tell when people keep commenting on it. Our third son has always been amazing at swimming and now he’s getting comments all the time by people he respects (swim club teachers etc).

    And interesting you say about the other sports as I just discovered that Paula Radcliffe gave up Judo for running!

    Post a Reply
    • Training a lot definitely helps! Talent can only take you so far, they do have to put the work in too.
      That’s great that your son keeps getting comments about his swimming, it must be lovely to hear. I always like to hear the other parents gasp when my son jumps!
      That’s interesting about Paula Radcliffe and the judo. I know that a lot of footballers and rugby players had to choose between that and cricket.

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