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Should Young Athletes Specialise Early?

This is an excerpt from High-Performance Training for Sports by David Joyce & Dan Lewindon.

Designing training programmes for single-sport athletes would require a phase of physical preparation prior to the onset of the competitive phase. However, for those athletes involved in multiple sports that may overlap, we need to ensure preparation phases are built into each competitive season. Central to this philosophy is the need to ensure that the child has sufficient time to rest and recover and to enable normal growth and maturation processes to occur. Additionally, the preparation phases should be viewed as an opportunity to regain or improve on precompetition levels of fitness that would typically have plateaued or decreased as a result of the demands of the competitive season. This approach is essential for reducing the likelihood youth athletes experiencing nonfunctional overreaching or overtraining, which can lead to performance decrements and reductions in overall health and well-being. Previous research showed that nonfunctional overreaching or overtraining occurred in approximately 30 per cent of young athletic population across a breadth of different sports.40

Early sport specialisation refers to when children focus on a single sport and complete year-round specific training at a young age. Risks associated with early specialisation include social isolation, burnout and overuse injuries,41 all of which make a long-term approach to youth physical development somewhat challenging. Certain sports such as gymnastics lend themselves more to earlier specialisation than others; for most sports, however, specialisation should be delayed until adolescence to ensure the child athlete is exposed to a breadth of training environments that develop fundamental motor skills before training focuses on sport-specific skills. Unfortunately, more sports are trying to promote earlier specialisation, and consequently, many strength and conditioning coaches working with young athletes will have to deal with the additional risks of overtraining and overuse injuries.

Read more from High-Performance Training for Sports by David Joyce and Dan Lewindon.

More Excerpts From High Performance Training for Sports