More About Specialization

Specialization occurs when an athlete chooses to train and compete in one or two sports exclusively. Specialization is inevitable and necessary for athletes who want to become high performers in their sport, but it must occur at the right age for the athlete to be successful.

Sports can be classified as either early or late specialization. Early specialization sports include artistic and acrobatic sports such as gymnastics, diving, and figure skating. These differ from late specialization sports in that very complex skills are learned before puberty since they cannot be fully mastered if taught after puberty.

Most other sports are late specialization sports. If physical literacy is acquired before puberty, athletes can select a late specialization sport when they are between the ages of 12 and 15 and have the potential to rise to international stage in that sport. 

Specializing before the age of 10 in late specialization sports contributes to:

  • One-sided, sport-specific preparation.
  • Lack of ABC’s, the basic movement and sports skills.
  • Overuse injuries.
  • Early burnout.
  • Early retirement from training and competition.

Early involvement in the FUNdamentals stage and mastering basic sport skills and movements is essential in late specialization sports. High performance teams must sometimes implement remedial skills programs to correct shortcomings in athletes who specialized too early and never mastered basic sport skills.

Disability sports are late specialization. It is important that children with a congenital disability or early acquired disability be exposed to the full range of fundamentals before specializing in the sport of their choice.

>> Learn about the next key factor: Developmental Age