Two developmental pathways to sport excellence have been described: early specialization and early sampling (Côté, Lidor, & Hackfort, 2009). Despite a common assumption that early specialization (defined as playing one sport exclusively and intensely before age 12) is a necessary precursor to success at the collegiate or professional levels, research to support this assumption remains unclear. To add to this literature, the current study was a survey of 708 minor league professional baseball players on the ages at which they began to specialize in their sport. Results indicated that most players sampled a diversity of sports up through late adolescence. Only 25% of players specialized before the age of 12 and the mean age of specialization was 15 years. Furthermore, those who specialized later were more likely to receive college scholarships. Finally, we examined patterns of specialization as a function of athletes’ home climate and culture. At least in this sample of professional minor league baseball players, an early sampling pathway seems to have fortified success at both the collegiate and professional levels.
Richard D. Ginsburg, Nicole Danforth, T. Atilla Ceranoglu, Stephen A. Durant, Hayley Kamin, and Rebecca Babcock are with PACES Institute of Sport Psychology, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. Steven R. Smith is now with the PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium, Palo Alto University. Lucy Robin is with Marketing and Planning Systems.