Four years ago Taylor Bush was a walk-on sprinter at the University of Arizona. Now the 22-year-old is one of the top hammer throwers in the NCAA with a personal best of 63.78 meters. In short, she is every coach’s dream. Every coach I know is looking for a way to spot the next talented athlete. But finding and measuring talent can be difficult, especially when it is hard to define. Perhaps the most highly analyzed athletes in the world are college quarterbacks. Yet as Malcolm Gladwell thoughtfully discussed several years ago, even highly trained NFL scouts spending countless hours doing tests and analyses still have a poor success rate in recognizing the next star quarterback. The book Moneyball showed other high profile sports have the same problem no matter how much they invest in the problem.
You would think athletics might be different since it looks like it relies more on physical qualities and less on strategy and skill. But talent still remains a complex combination of many factors. Some people chalk it up to natural strength or size, but it is much more than that. Strength is a key factor, and as the cliche goes size cannot be taught, but coordination, potential for improvement, and coachability all play a big factor. Environmental factors such as their family situation even play a role in determining who will be the best rather than who is the best now. Most throwing coaches I know use some form of the Max Jones Quad Test to measure and test talent. In essence this is a test of power where points are scored in four events: a 30-sprint, the overhead shot put throw, standing long jump, and standing triple jump. I was first introduced to this test during my freshman year of college by coach Glenn McAtee. But even he recognizes its shortcomings. As he told me recently “It is not very hammer specific or even throws specific. Rarely as your best throwers also your best quadrathletes. I used that because it allowed all the athletes to compete.”
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