Adapted from an article by Marcus Costa *
There is a big difference between initiation in sports and specialization in sports. The first phrase refers to kids being introduced to a sport — something beneficial and pleasurable.
But specialization implies rules and the search for results — which often, instead of stimulating development, can cause a child to hate a given sport.
Studies show that the athletes that reach the top specialize around 18 years of age and train less in their childhood. They intensify their training during the final phase of adolescence, when they are better prepared to deal with demands, pressure, expectations and frustrations.
The scientific literature deems it important to stimulate children to practice multiple sports without seeking competitiveness in all of them, because if a premature obsession with gold medals is sown, it’s sure to overload the musculoskeletal and psychological systems of these young athletes.
In this period of initiation in sports, it’s interesting to stay away from premature specialization. After all, in order to achieve expressive results, many hours of training are required, which can lead to injuries, exhaustion and a lack of time to devote to other important tasks in the life of the young athlete.
If we think about the formation of a future great champion who develops gradually and with a long-term perspective, we can split the athlete’s trajectory in the following way:
PRELIMINARY PREPARATION (6–11): Aims to get the child used to sports. Every three months, the child does a different sport. Here, competitions have a recreational character.
INITIAL SPECIALIZATION (12–14): Aims to get the athlete to pick one to three sports. Here, competitions have a formative character.
DEEP SPECIALIZATION (15–17): Focuses on one sport, with an eye on regional, national and international competitions.
SPECIFIC PREPARATION: Aims to unlock the full potential of the athlete, looking for good results in international competitions.
LONGEVITY: Aims at maintaining those results over the years.