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.


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?

Last week I visited one of our training groups in Asturias, northern Spain.

I really enjoy seeing what they’re doing at different times of the season. In the Autumn/Winter periods the volume is higher both on and off water. It’s great to see how they’re working on the technique, aerobic capacity, strength and other important areas. Then, in the Spring/Summer months it gets more specific and I love seeing them achieve race speed and race technique with such ease.

So far, Autumn has been very warm, and although the weather is finally changing and the morning started fresh, it soon warmed up and we all enjoyed another lovely day.

There are some big names in this training group. Most of them are already Olympic medalists but they still work with the same dedication, humility and discipline.

Marcus Cooper – Rio 2016 Olympic Champion & Tokyo 2020 silver medalist. Current K4 500m World Champion.
Carlos Arévalo – Tokyo 2020 silver medalist. Current K4 500m World Champion.
Rodrigo Germade – Tokyo 2020 silver medalist. Current K4 500m World Champion.

They know that there are no shortcuts to greatness.

Discipline is worked on day by day. Without haste. Creating habits and behaviors that help us achieve our ambitions. Constancy is a virtue and we should not rush on the path to our goals.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus said that we must overcome a long winter of training and not rush into things that we are not prepared for.

Discipline, perseverance, patience and preparation. Our athletes keep working towards their goals, with purpose, however difficult it may be.

To make those tough moments more bearable, a healthy team climate is essential. Some months ago I wrote about nurturing team climate.

The following day, I decided to join them on the water for an easy 12km session. It felt great being next to them as I used to when I still raced.

It was the right decision because the next time I visit them I won’t be able to keep up with their speed.

Last week, the Spanish canoeing sprint team wrote a new page on the history books, winning the medal table for the first time thanks to the 4 gold and 2 silver medals won by our outstanding paddlers.

This year we’ve actually won two medal tables. First at the World Cup in Racice (Chzec Republic) and then at the World Championships in Halifax (Canada).

Some team leaders and athletes from other countries commented how relaxed our athletes and coaches seemed during these competitions. I must admit that it is true that we’ve had an amazing team climate during this season’s international competitions but it can only work out that way when there is an insane amount of hard work, organization, trouble-shooting and emotional control prior to each event. Then you can enjoy the pressure and shine on D Day.

One of the gold medals that helped us win that medal table was won by the young C2 crew Cayetano García and Pablo Martinez. If you watched their interview after the race in Canada, you probably listened to them thanking those who supported them during some difficult times. I won’t go into much detail here but if you were wondering what they meant by “difficult times”, it was because their coach decided to leave them 8 weeks before the World Championships and just a week after they won the C2 500m at the World Cup in Racice.

They were one of our most hopeful crews for a gold medal at the World Championships so we had to act quickly and find a solution as soon as possible.

That very day I talked to Kiko Martin, one of our most experienced and successful coaches,  and thankfully he accepted the challenge of coaching these two young paddlers and Olympic finalist Antia Jácome. Two days later they were catching a ferry to Mallorca to continue with their preparation under a new guidance but within the same system that has been supporting them over the past few years.

Two weeks after they landed in Mallorca, I went to see them train and I was sure that those three paddlers were going to achieve great things this year (you’ll see Antia Jacome in action this week in the Women’s C1 200m at the European Championships in Munich).

To have a good team climate on D Day is not natural. There is too much at stake. Too much pressure. Anything can blow up at any moment. That is why, in order to achieve and maintain a good team climate, it is so important that the team leader and the coaches do all the groundwork looking after the smallest details and finding solutions to any unexpected issues.