Talent identification and development in male rugby league

Rotheram, David (2020) Talent identification and development in male rugby league. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the effectiveness of the Talent and Performance Pathway in professional (male) English Rugby League, in order to meet the aims of both the Rugby Football League (RFL), the National Governing Body (NGB) of the sport in the UK, and Super League (Europe), the premier club competition in Europe. Specifically, the thesis has focused upon how optimum environments can be created in order to propel England to consistent World Cup wins and ensure that the Super League is supplied with high quality players providing ‘world class’ spectator and broadcast entertainment that drives increased commercial revenues.

This work has been viewed through the complex social, financial and political backdrop in which the sport operates. The origins of the sport of Rugby League and the communities that it serves, through an engrained culture are initially investigated. These factors are shown to have a direct impact upon the Talent and Performance pathway since discrepancies were found between what current talent identification and development (TID) literature says and what is happening in practice. These discrepancies have been investigated using a mixed methods approach where a comparison with our major international competitor in Australia was conducted. Findings dispelled the myth that all England had to do was copy what the Australians did due to the social milieu in which the sport exists in both countries.

Qualitative approaches were used to investigate challenges relating to the competition structure within the talent and performance pathway. Findings revealed that there is too much emphasis being placed upon short term results as opposed to long term development at the base of the pathway (i.e. community RL and first selective environments). In addition, an inappropriate development environment and competition offer was found to exist for athletes transitioning between age-group and elite performance environments resulting in players being ill-equipped to maximise their potential. Using the empirical evidence gathered, an alternative competition offer has been proposed.
In an attempt to create better environments, behaviour change literature was explored and discrepancies between behaviours and desired outcomes from TID literature are discussed. To conclude, further areas of investigation arising from the thesis are suggested namely talent inclusion and people development.

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