Talking talent : Narratives of youth sports selection

Abstract: In sports, there seems to be an eternal interest in discovering young talents and refining them into elite adult athletes. The dilemma of selecting talent, while at the same time ensuring every child´s right to participate, needs to be addressed and have consequences in social practice. This dissertation elucidates the discourse of selection and the process of selecting young sporting talents during final selection camps for youth national teams in football, hockey and floorball in Sweden. More specifically, the aim is to analyze how talent selection is organizationally legitimized, how “selectability” is produced in interaction and how specific narratives are used in success-stories. The empirical material includes research interviews, performance appraisal interviews (between district or national team coaches and the player) and field studies during ongoing final selection camp. Drawing on a discursive-narrative approach, the aim is to investigate how selection is discursively legitimized and, by using narrative analysis, how positioning in talk-in-interaction functions.The first article investigates the construction of legitimate selection within the Swedish Sports Confederation by analyzing their organizational documents, sport journals and literature for coach education. The findings show how a specific set of narratives are used to legitimize selection and how legitimacy works both individually to those within the selection system and on a wider arena of welfare politics. The second article investigates the co-construction of selectability in small story-interaction during interviews between the coach and a player in the final selection camp. The analyses highlight how this narrative genre produces certain stories and preferred positions. The third article analyzes how the young participants, in research interviews during final selection camp, uses discursively shared narratives to produce personal stories of success. The findings illustrate how the personal stories of success are balancing the dilemmatic space, positioning yourself as outstanding and at the same time appear a humble team player.The principal contribution of this dissertation is to show how talent is organizationally legitimized and how selectability is produced in interaction, as well as illustrate how specific stories are used in stories of success. This work investigates the discursive framework for selection and how rationalities for talent selection are produced (and reproduced) and co-constructed in narrative interaction. In this apparatus of selection it takes more than physical talent to be chosen; it takes talking talent.

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