This article provides a historical overview of the practice of early sport specialization, primarily in the United States. Sport specialization as practiced by young athletes has been a common occurrence in several individual sports for more than 60 years. More recently, focusing on one sport has gained traction as common practice for young athletes involved in team sports. Sport specialization as a topic of research inquiry has been examined by various disciplines in kinesiology to determine the efficacy of the practice, the physiological effects, and the advantages and disadvantages, as well as to offer possible solutions to the drawbacks associated with sport specialization. Popular press outlets, including newspapers, books, magazines, and online sources, have also joined the debate over the merits of sport specialization.
Maureen M. Smith
Matthew Burwell, Justin DiSanti, and Tamara C. Valovich McLeod
sports.” 1 , 4 – 7 Early sport specialization is beginning this practice at a young age with commonly used cutoffs for early sport specialization including age groups 13 and younger, 8 younger than 14, 9 , 10 or specialization prior to high school. 11 In addition, the literature has identified ways
Peter A. Hastie
This paper examines the literature within sport pedagogy that addresses early sport specialization. The paper is presented in two sections. First, research on a number of common sense assumptions about early specialization is examined from a pedagogical perspective: (a) Is limiting youths’ experiences to a single sport the best path to elite status? (b) Do early specializers receive better coaching? (c) Do coaches of early specializers have better sport content knowledge? (d) Do coaches of early specializers have better planning behaviors? (e) Do instructional climates differ between specialized and diversified coaching settings? Second, a research agenda from a pedagogical perspective is proposed for answering the questions posed in the first section, as well as the various assessments and protocols that would allow for these questions to be answered.
Thelma S. Horn
One of the primary dilemmas surrounding the topic of early sport specialization is whether the practice develops talent or creates long-term psychological problems. The purpose of this paper is to discuss this issue using psychosocial and developmental frameworks. This review begins with an overview of several developmentallybased constructs (e.g., biological maturation, perceived competence, body image, self-identity, motivational orientation) that are relevant to the sport domain. These developmental progressions are then used to address some potential implications for children who begin intensive training and competition at an early age. Next, some socioenvironmental factors are explored, with specific links made to the early sport specialization process. Finally, the paper ends with four recommendations for future research on the topic.
Cesar R. Torres
In contemporary sport, it is common to see children initiating their specialization at ever younger ages with the hope that this early start will assist them in making the elite ranks at a later age. The growing acceptance of early sport specialization has led to equally growing concerns among researchers. Clearly, as this thematic volume attests, early sport specialization is a controversial phenomenon. Sport philosophers have started to study the challenging issues related to early sport specialization and thus there is emerging literature addressing such issues. This paper reviews the sport philosophy literature touching on early sport specialization and focuses on some fundamental philosophical issues raised by early sport specialization. These issues are related to the right of children to an open future, dangerous sports, competition and coaching, and doping and genetic enhancements. The paper concludes with a brief commentary on the relevance of these issues for policy making.
Shelby Waldron, J.D. DeFreese, Brian Pietrosimone, Johna Register-Mihalik, and Nikki Barczak
later sport experiences ( Côté, Horton, et al., 2009 ; Russell, 2014 ). Therefore, the current study examined the association between retrospective early sport specialization and both retrospective and current psychological health outcomes of young adults, utilizing a retrospective design. Based on
Jacqueline D. Goodway and Leah E. Robinson
This commentary examines the argument for early sport specialization versus sport sampling from a physical growth and motor development perspective. Three developmental frameworks are examined (Mountain of Motor Development, Developmental Model of Sport Participation, Spirals of Engagement Trajectory model) to make the case that a broad base of fundamental motor skill competence is necessary in the early years before sport specialization in the adolescent years. Early sport specialization is criticized from the standpoint of increased risk for overuse injury, concerns about long-term growth, and the fact that early and intense practice schedules often do not differentiate elite versus nonelite athletes. A strong argument is made for early sport sampling to acquire a broad base of fundamental motor skills to apply to different sports, and to allow physical maturity to develop before specializing in sport. Such an approach also better equips a child to be active across the lifespan.
Heather K. Larson, Bradley W. Young, Tara-Leigh F. McHugh, and Wendy M. Rodgers
Substantial literature on youth sport has linked early sport specialization to negative consequences, such as burnout and dropout. A consensus statement released by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) defined early specialization (ES) as follows: (a) involving prepubertal
Thomas W. Rowland
Performance in all forms of motor activity related to sport performance improves progressively during the course of the childhood years as a consequence of normal growth and development. Whether (a) sport training can accelerate and ultimately enhance this biological development and (b) the existence of certain ages when training might prove to be more effective in improving performance, particularly early in childhood, remains uncertain. Physiological adaptations to endurance training in prepubertal children (improvements in maximal oxygen uptake) are dampened compared with adults, but enhancements of strength following resistance training are equally effective at all ages. The extent that intensive training regimens characteristic of early sport specialization in children can trigger physiological and performance adaptations may therefore depend on the form of exercise involved. Clearly, additional research is needed to enhance the understanding of the physiological responses to intensive sport training in prepubertal individuals.