Early or late specialization? What is better to get excelling adult athletes?

This morning I read a study that I found very interesting for parents and those coaches who work with young athletes, and I would like to share the results with you.

The study is a meta-analysis of 51 studies that involved a total of 6,096 athletes, including 772 world-class athletes.

The authors began by asking the following question:

What explains the acquisition of exceptional performance: an intensive specialized approach or a multidisciplinary practice background?

 What do you think?

 The findings revealed that world-class adult athletes participated more in multidisciplinary sport activities in childhood or adolescence.  On one hand, those who started their main sport later accumulating less practice time in their main sport progressed, initially, more slowly.  On the other hand, the highest performing young athletes started their main sport earlier, became more involved in their main sport and less in other sports, and had faster initial progression.

The study illustrates parallels between science and Nobel laureates.  Apparently, many of these scientists or academics accumulated more experience of study or work in a multidisciplinary way and had a slower initial progression in their fields.

 Their findings also suggest that multidisciplinary experiences when athletes are young are associated with a gradual initial progression, meaning that it takes them longer to become elite in their sports, but that they expect greater sustainability of developing excellence over the long term.

Therefore, if we are parents of young athletes or we work with them, it is important to expose them to different sport disciplines and avoid early specialization.

What are your thoughts?

Do we (us, the athletes themselves or the people around them) have the patience not to stand out too soon? How can affect an athlete’s motivation if he or she doesn´t excel and has to continue training and persevering hoping that, at one point later on, his or her real potential in that sport will begin to blossom?