Players’ understanding of talent identification in early specialisation youth football

Despite research illustrating the socially constructed and subjective nature of talent identification in football, little research has explored how players make sense of ‘being talented’ and how this shapes their identity experiences. Five football academy players aged 11 years participated in five focus group interviews. Thematic and interactional qualitative analyses were performed to examine the content and function of participants’ talk. Findings described how players constructed being scouted as authentically choosing, or being chosen by, a club, which worked to protect or enhance participants’ talented identities and self-worth. Talent was regarded as dynamic, but players’ perceived expectation to continuously improve implied a potentially problematic view of development as linear. Evidence of early socialisation into the academy culture indicated that while effort was seen as virtuous, it was used to judge performance in comparison to peers, suggesting that effort had become a rhetorical device that reflected conformity, rather than player motivation.