When do I need to specialise in a particular sport?

Parents frequently approach me and ask, “At what age should my child specialise in one sport?” My response is always that it needs to be the pupil’s informed decision, with support and guidance from coaches and parents.

As a general guide, I recommend multi-sport participation. This is because there is clear evidence that wider participation across a breadth of sports is beneficial for long-term well-being and provides greater support for those with potential.

The reaction of some parents is, “But will my child fall behind others involved in a more focused training and competition programme?”

Evidence shows that talent and enthusiasm in those who specialise in sports between 10 and 12 can dilute away by the age of 15. This is because, ironically, early specialisation can hinder rather than benefit sporting development.

These findings have been supported by analysis of Team GB at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.  It showed the majority of the high performing athletes, including those who won a medal, had come into their sports late, at 16-plus or even later.

It is widely accepted that there are sports which suit later specialisation, such as rowing, athletics, cricket and now, with recent work by the RFU, rugby.

Sports organisations are increasingly recognising the value of gaining wider skills to improve tactical, technical, mental and physical development, and to provide an edge over competitors.

At Hatherop, children play a range of sports before moving on to decide upon a specialism. Our children achieve a high level of athletic development that enables them to deal with higher training levels and to perform more effectively in their chosen sport. We strongly believe in promoting excellence and encouraging participation. 

Mr Nigel Bailey

Hatherop Director of Sports