Higher-degree research being undertaken by Balin Cupples




Associate Professor Donna O'Connor  and Dr Stephen Cobley

Thesis title:

An analysis of talent development pathways in elite rugby league.



Project description

Due to the ever increasing highly competitive nature of professional sport, the emerging research field of talent identification and development (TID) has been embraced by sport more than any other context. Balin’s research will explore the TID field by analysing a range of influencing factors and environments within the sport of rugby league. Adopting an ecological approach by highlighting the properties of both the person and the environment (Bronfennbrenner, 2005), his research analyses the complexity of talent development through a mixed methods approach. Aiming to increase the understanding of sport specific talent developmental processes Balin’s research consists of four interrelated studies.

  • Study 1 provides a broad examination of elite player development histories in relation to empirically identified key influences of athlete development. A significant sample of current National Rugby League (NRL) players will complete a questionnaire highlighting their development practices and the impact of a range of individual and environmental factors.
  • Studies 2 & 3 narrow the research focus in examining the often neglected significance of environmental and psychological characteristics of athlete development within successful school based talent development environments (TDE’s). Study 2 provides an initial ‘snapshot’ of current practice and processes through stakeholder interviews and a number of athlete questionnaires. Study 3 examines how the TDE’s evolve via a longitudinal analysis of player development through repeated questionnaires and player focus group discussions.
  • Study 4 is the development and implementation of an intervention within an NRL club. The study will aim to enhance psycho-social skill development to aid players in managing the transitions and challenges associated with the pathway to elite performance.

Balin Cupples is a part time PhD candidate who currently works fulltime within an Australian National Rugby League (NRL) club. In this role he contributes to various aspects of the youth rugby league coaching program, develops and oversees all aspects of athlete physical preparation, and also manages the club’s high performance pathway. A former secondary PDHPE teacher and lecturer in Sport Coaching and Administration, Balin is highly supported in his research path through his wife and daughter, and also the invaluable guidance of his supervisors Associate Professor Donna O’Connor and Dr Steve Cobley.


  • O'Connor, D. & Cupples, B. (2012). Striving for excellence: The talent identification and development pathway. In O'Dea, JA. (Ed.) (Ed.), Current issues and controversies in school and community health, sport and physical education. New York, USA: Nova Science.
  • Cupples, B. & O’Connor, D. (2011). The development of position-specific performance indicators in elite youth rugby league: A coach’s perspective. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 6(1), 125–141

Conference presentation

  • Cupples, B., O'Connor, D., Cobley, S. (2014). A snapshot of school based rugby league talent development environments: the impact of context and athlete psychological skills. AIESEP World Congress, Auckland, New Zealand. 10-13 February 2014.