FTEM was created for the ideal athlete pathway

The FTEM Framework

The Foundations, Talent, Elite and Mastery (FTEM) framework was developed by the Australian Institute of Sport to capture the ideal progression of the athlete pathway to become more successful.

FTEM is a practical tool to assist sporting stakeholders (federations, clubs, their staff, coaches, teachers, parents, etc.) in reviewing, planning and supporting athlete careers. The framework consists of four macro phases of athlete development (Foundation, Talent, Elite and Mastery), which are further differentiated into 10 micro phases.

Early development, refinement and foundation of movement

The Foundations phases are associated with the early development,
refinement, and expression of the foundations of movement, leading to lifelong physical literacy.

Physical literacy is considered an essential enabler for active lifestyles, recreation, as well as peak performance, and has been recognized as a key strategic pillar for the enduring success of sporting systems.


Learning and acquisition of basic movement

The focus of the first Foundations level (F1) is on learning or relearning (for children/adults with an acquired disability) a repertoire of basic movement skills.


Extension and refinement of movement

The focus of this second F stage is to expose a child to greater movement challenges in order to expand and refine their basic movement skills. Similar to the previous F1 phase, this is usually achieved through a mix of unorganized sporting activity (Deliberate Play) at home, in the local park or at school, and organized age-appropriate sport (e.g. in a club).


Sport specific commitment and/or competition

In the final foundational level (F3), sport-specific skills are being refined and progressed. The young athlete is commited to regular training and formal or informal competition. This level is usually the beginning of most club-based sporting experiences.

I train F3

“My athletes are young. I need to have access to drills, which are age appropriate and fun. The integrated academy inspires me and makes me a better coach.”

Athletes progressing into high performance pathways

Talent Identification and Development

Talent identification and development describes the process of an athlete moving into, and/or progressing up, the high performance pathway to an elite or mastery status.

The T1 and T2 phases expand the concept of talent identification to include consideration of a broad range of holistic athlete attributes and a period of confirmation to improve selection decisions.

The T3 and T4 phases advocate a process of deliberate programming to optimise athlete development.


Demonstration of potential

In the T1 phase, athletes typically exhibit demonstrable talents in the physical, physiological, psychological, and skill domain that indicate potential in high-performance sport. This can occur through formal testing or informal processes, including self-identification triggered by an individual’s self-awareness of their ability to outperform their peers.

Recognizing the complexity and limitations of athlete prediction, T1 represents only an initial assessment of potential and should ideally be confirmed in the next FTEM phase, T2.


Talent verification

Confirmation of talent (T2) is seen as complementary to T1, with evidence-based testing (T1) supplemented by the subjective judgments of coaches and talent scouts within the training and competition environment. There are no set time frames for the T2 process, although months rather than days or weeks are recommended.

During the T2 phase, athletes are observed in a trial period of a specific training and competition environment to demonstrate and confirm their “trainability” (sport-specific skill acquisition), commitment, motivation, ability to be coached, and other positive psychological, self-management and relevant traits. This phase is crucial to confirm whether the initial impression of potential can be sustained. Verification of talent by a known benchmark ideally leads to formal support of an athlete within the T3 phase.


Practising and achieving

Having been confirmed as potential elite athletes (T2), they now are commited to high training volumes and strive for continuous performance improvements. This phase arguably contains the largest cohort of future elite athletes, but it is also very delicate, as priorities regarding funding and support for athletes are preferentially focused on the ends of the pathway rather than the middle. This often leads to a number of deficiencies in key development areas such as coaching, competition, equipment, etc.

The quality of the development environment is critical at this level to reduce potential dropout and underachievement. Given the measurable lack of attention often provided to athletes at this phase of development, T3 represents a fertile area for future investment and potential international advantage.


Breakthrough and reward

Gaining formalised and professional support for continued development is the key feature of T4. An athlete’s efforts to improve their performance at T3 are essentially rewarded at T4 where they may earn an athletic scholarship at a university or an institute/academy of sport. Similarly, they may be drafted into a professional team or an elite training squad greatly enhancing their chances of becoming an ‘elite’ athlete. Performing well at a key event (eg a major championship) can also be a critical milestone that leads to the increased likelihood of being noticed and supported by the sport or the high performance sport system.

Maximisation of interaction between pre-elite and elite athletes (‘vertical integration’) is critical to advance a T4 athlete’s development. In addition, T4 presents a critical transition point into open international competition (E1).

I am T3

“I’m a proven talent and being pushed to the limit. With the right development planning through athlete monitoring, I’ll make it to the national team.”

Achieving success through senior international representation

Achieving and Maintaining Elite Performance

At the pinnacle of the athlete pathway, sporting organisations strive to improve the conversion rates from national representation to podium and onto sustained success. They seek to assist athletes to negotiate the myriad of high performance stressors while maintaining a healthy sport-life balance which supports athletes’ wellbeing and their ability to sustain their performance on the world stage.

To distinguish between elite and non-elite athletes in the field of talent development it is essential to fully understand expertise characteristics and their development.

Elite performance within the FTEM framework is represented by clear performance benchmarks and achievable planning outcomes. However, the characterisations of elite performers are dependent on whether the athlete is predominantly engaged in an Olympic sport or a professional sport.


Senior elite representation

The E1 phase represents the achievement of an elite athlete status at the highest level of international or professional sport.
While these athletes have achieved an elite status, they have yet to achieve an international podium result or succeed in a professional sport, such as winning a national championship or being recognized as the “best player of the season.” Given this, targeted interventions such as tailored support and education before, during, and after an athlete’s initial exposure to key high level events is considered paramount to converting E1 athletes into medal winning athletes (E2).


Senior elite success

An E2 athlete in an Olympic or Paralympic sport has won a medal at a major international competition, e.g. World Championships, Olympic or Paralympic Games. In professional sports, E2 are recognized athletes in their sport.

I am E1

“I’m a top athlete and represent my nation in international competitions! Due to the holistic approach of my coach, I report my daily state of health via mobile app.”

Sustained success over multiple cycles

Continued elite success

In Olympic, Paralympic, and professional sports, Mastery Athletes are those who achieve sustained success in an E2 phase over multiple (8+) years. Mastery Athletes are exceptional performers who have reached the pinnacle of the athlete’s journey. They are champions in their sport.

Their sustained elite success demonstrates the most cost-effective and efficient results for the significant investment made in developing top athletes.
A better understanding of what factors, attributes, and strategies of an athlete underlie sustained elite success is paramount to maximizing investment in elite talent.

I am M

“I’m a champion in my sport. I have achieved the highest level, which was only possible through a perfectly planned athlete pathway over years.”