Talent Identification

Talent identification and development systems are popular in youth sport. Our research over the last decade has evaluated factors impacting upon talent identification, development and career attainment in rugby. 

Findings show being older, more mature and bigger during adolescence (~13-14 years) increases the likelihood of selection to player development pathways. However, these factors do not relate to future career success in rugby. This research has resulted in national governing bodies and professional clubs changing their talent identification and development strategy, policies and practices to increase the number of talent development opportunities to more players.

Our partners

our impact

Our research has directly changed the RFL’s and RFU’s talent identification and development programmes for young rugby players. This research has changed talent identification policy and practice within rugby by changing the talent identification age from ~13 to ~15 years, increasing the number of player development opportunities available (e.g., from 1,000 to 8,000 in RFU), informing the implementation of a new reserve level (i.e., Over 18s) competition in rugby league and the introduction of a later maturing development programme at Leeds Rhinos RLFC. Furthermore, coach education of relative age and maturity amongst academy managers, coaches and scouts has been pivotal in increasing inclusivity for player development opportunities. Overall, these significant policy changes to the talent identification and development have resulted in a greater number of players receiving talent development opportunities within the sports.

Over the last 15 years, the RFL have developed a key relationship with Leeds Beckett University and have established research partnerships with the institution to improve the quality of the provision we provide across areas of the sport. Working closely with Professor Kevin Till and Professor Ben Jones, alongside others within the CARR centre, research has supported, impacted and evolved several of our programmes. This has helped our athletes make progress and we have also revised our policies and programmes against the new body of evidence thus providing benefits to our numerous stakeholders involved within the game.

Dave Rotheram Chief on Field Officer, Rugby Football League.

Key outputs


  • Till K, & Baker J. (2020) Challenges and [Possible] Solutions to Optimising Talent Identification and Development in Sport. Frontiers Psychology Performance Science. 16th March 2020. 
  • Till, K., Emmonds, S., & Jones, B. (2019) Talent Identification. Chapter 2. In Lloyd, R., & Oliver, J. (Eds.) Strength & Conditioning for Youth Athletes. Science and Practical Aplications, Routledge, pp. 20-44
  • Till K, Jones B, Cobley S, Morley D, O’Hara J, Chapman C, Cooke C, & Beggs C. (2016) Talent Identification in Youth Sport: A novel methodology using higher-dimensional analysis. PLOS One. 11(5), e0155047
  • Till, K., Cobley, S., Morley, D., O'Hara, J., Chapman, C., & Cooke, C. (2016) The influence of age, playing position, anthropometry and fitness on career attainment outcomes in rugby league. Journal of Sports Science, 34(13), 1240-1245
  • Till, K. Cobley, S. Wattie, N. O'Hara, J. Cooke, C. & Chapman, C. (2010) The prevalence, influential factors and mechanisms of relative age effects in UK Rugby League. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 20. 320-329
  • RFL Testimonial (Dave Rotheram; Chief On-Field Officer)
  • RFU Testimonial (John Lawn; Head of Game Development)
  • Ben Lazenby interview (Yorkshire RU Academy; Academy Manager) 
  • England Rugby League Testimonial (Kevin Sinfield; Rugby Director and Head of England Performance Unit)
  • England Rugby Union Testimonial (Jonathan Pendlebury; England Rugby Union Under 18s Head Coach)
  • UK Coaching Report: Leeds Rhinos Late Maturer Development Programme (Published Sept 2019)