‘Developing’ athletes (with Lisette Burrows)
In November 2013, Lydia Ko, the then top-ranked women’s amateur golfer in the world, turned professional. What made this event ‘newsworthy’ was the fact that she was 16 years old. In the golfing world Lydia was considered a prodigy. When she was 12, she made the cut in her first professional event, and then never missed one as an amateur in her subsequent 12 professional tournaments. At the age of 14 years (and nine months) she won the 2012 New South Wales Open in Australia, making her the youngest ever winner of a professional event worldwide. We marvel at Lydia’s achievements, because we do not expect this from a teenage girl. We expect teenagers to be experimenting, searching for an identity, and rebelling against parents or caregivers. Similarly, when coaching a team of five year olds in football we do not expect them to be executing finely honed passing, dribbling and kicking skills, positioning themselves strategically on the field or engaging in complex tactical play. We expect such players to cluster around the ball because ‘that’s the stage they’re at’. Both of these expectations arise from developmental assumptions.