Part Two: My opinion on the early/late specialization topic

Yesterday I published a post that was based on a study that questioned whether an early or a late sport specialization conducted to higher performing adult athletes.

The study shows that late specialization can be a better approach than specializing too early for the development of excellence.

My take on this topic of early/late speacialization may be slightly controversial but I do believe that early specialization is actually good even for the long run, if (and this is a big IF), for a while, let’s say until the ages of 12 to 16, or earlier depending on the sport*, alongside the main sport, a young athlete also invests a significant amount of time doing other activities.

I’ve worked with many world class top performers from very diverse sports like canoeing (sprint and slalom), surfing, snowboarding, football, or swimming, and something that they all had in common is that they specialized very early in their main sport, but they were also pretty good at some other sports. 

In my personal case, I started paddling when I was 7 years old. I had lots of fun, but I trained quite a bit. I was winning all the local races and was also amongst the best at the national ones. However, I also played football (I was a goalkeeper), and I tried track and field, swimming and karate. By the age of 12 I was good at canoeing and football, but I felt that it was time to pick one and went with canoeing.

That combination of intense early specialization combined with a multidisciplinary approach is in my opinion key for keeping an athlete motivated to keep improving whilst developing a vast range of skills (physically, technically and mentally) that can be applied in the main sport, which can make a difference in the long run.

*We saw 13 year-old skateboarders winning Olympic medals in Tokyo 2020.