EARLY SPECIALIZATION Vs. MULTILATERAL DEVELOPMENT FOR YOUNG ATHLETES
Most experts feel that it is best to avoid specialization prior to age 15 or so, depending upon the stage of growth and development. Others argue for specialization as early as possible whenever the child is ready.
Tudor Bompa, in his book Total Training for Young Champions: Proven Conditioning Programs for Athletes Ages 6 to 18, suggests a Multilateral Plan for various age groups that slowly prepares young athletes for specialization after building a basic skill and conditioning foundation. This foundation training is recommended until age 15. A summary of this approach is provided below.
|AGE||STAGE||RECOMMENDED FOCUS AND PROGRESSION|
|6-10||Initiation||Children should be encouraged to participate in as many sports as possible using low intensity training programs with the emphasis on enjoyment. During this period, attention spans are short and the human body is rapidly changing and susceptible to soft tissue injuries that can seriously affect growth and development and health. Children are encouraged to try many different activities and develop the fundamental skills that are common to most ports such as throwing, kicking, catching, batting, jumping and running, and other basic traits such as coordination, flexibility, and balance. It is the formation of sound technique in these skills that prepare young athletes for later specialization in the sport of choice. These fundamental skills need much more attention than they currently receive in our nation’s physical education programs. The trend to reduce and eliminate school P.E. programs must be reversed to improve the health of the nation and provide enough time for the formation of sound fundamental skills.|
|11-14||Athletic||The emphasis remains on fun competition and Foundation Training. Athletes are exposed to more complex drills and activities with the emphasis remaining on “fun” rather than competition. Training intensity is increased slightly. Although still
susceptible to injury, the body is somewhat more prepared for moderate foundation training in strength, muscular endurance (anaerobic training), and cardiovascular endurance. Core (hips, ower back, abdomen) and arm and shoulder development is initiated using body weight, light dumbbells and medicine balls. Heavy weights are avoided and workouts are supervised at all times.
|15-18||Specialization||Emphasis shifts to specific exercises and drills aimed at high performance development. As this stage progresses, emphasis moves move from a coaching to a training role. Careful supervision is need to prevent “too much, too soon” and ensure proper conditioning progression. In addition to conditioning changes, athletes begin longer practice sessions as they work hard on perfecting the techniques of the sport. Mental training is also added.|
Exceptional performance results usually occur after athletes reach athletic maturation. Studies show that the average age of Olympic athletes for most sports is 19-25:
Athletics – 24.1
Not all psychologists, physiologists, medical and coaching experts are in agreement with this model. Evidence to the contrary does exist in some areas where it is extremely difficult to reach a high performance level when an athlete begins at a later stage of growth and development. Some experts argue for specialization to begin in the 11-14 age group. This is particularly true for gymnastics, golf, and tennis where early emphasis on proper technique and execution of the fundamental skills of the sport are critical. Moderate and heavy supplemental conditioning (other than aspects such as tennis stroking, drills, and play) are avoided until the next stage.