Author Identifiers

Alexandra Hannah Roberts
ORCID: 0000-0003-4823-9718

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Advisor

Associate Professor Annette Raynor

Second Advisor

Fiona Iredale

Third Advisor

Daniel Greenwood

Fourth Advisor

Clare Humberstone


For decades, researchers and practitioners interested in talent identification have discussed the coaches’ eye: the elusive ability that allows some coaches to ‘see’ qualities in an athlete that point to their talent or future potential. While there is significant anecdotal evidence of coaches who possess this ability, there is little empirical research supporting the validity or reliability of the coaches’ eye. Guided by ecological dynamics, this thesis employs mixed methodologies to explore the decision-making that underpins how high-level coaches identify talent in Olympic combat sports. These four studies captured the processes of thirty- four coaches during the talent identification process, exploring and identifying the factors that impact on a coach’s ability to perform this integral task.

A systematic review and meta-synthesis revealed that ‘instinct’ is a primary contributor to coach decision-making during talent identification (TID), allowing coaches to ‘know it when they see it’. Semi-structured interviews with international coaches explored this ‘instinct’ during TID and revealed that coaches require experience, time and knowledge of context in order to identify talent. An instrumental case study corroborated these results, and also found that there is a significant conceptual difference between talent identification and talent selection, in the eyes of this coach. Both studies indicated that coaches likely select athletes based on their capabilities as a coach, not purely on athlete ability or potential. The final study found that nine national-level coaches did not agree on the rankings of talented youth judo athletes after four days. This finding indicates that the coaches’ eye is subjective and confirms the novel findings of the prior studies; namely that coaches require time to get to know athletes, their opinions of the athletes’ talent changed over time, and coaches vary in who they ‘see’ as talented. Finally, two new models are presented: the Coach-Informed Talent Identification Process and a novel model of the Coaches’ Eye in Talent Identification. The experiential coach knowledge gathered in this thesis informed the creation of these models.

This thesis indicates that the coaches’ eye is the lens through which coaches view athletes, using their expertise and experience to interpret the athlete’s raw potential, and the time spent with the athlete and the context of their identification to determine whom they will select into their team. It appears that coaches perceive talent with reference to what they can develop in an athlete; thus, coaches must be involved in the identification and selection of talented athletes. These results indicate that National Sporting Organisations should ensure that coaches are provided with the necessary time, education and guidance to ensure that athlete outcomes are optimised.

This thesis provides an understanding of how the coaches’ eye works during TID and a new understanding of this term. These findings have implications for the ongoing practice and research of talent identification in combat sports, and this work contain recommendations for both coaches and national sporting organisations to improve the confidence, accuracy and reliability of the coaches’ eye when forecasting talent.

Access Note

Access to Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 of this thesis is not available.