specializationSports can be classified as either early or late specialization. Well-known early specialization sports include artistic and acrobatic sports such as gymnastics, diving, and figure skating. These differ from late specialization sports in that very complex skills are learned before maturation since they cannot be fully mastered if taught after maturation.

Most other sports are late specialization sports; however, all sports should be individually analyzed using international and national normative data to determine whether they are early or late specialization. If physical literacy is acquired before maturation, athletes can select a late specialization sport when they are between the ages of 12 and 15 and have the potential to rise to international stardom in that sport.

Based on sport-specific work done by more than 100 organizations around the world, experts from the sport-specific groups indicated when sport specialization is recommended. This has allowed groupings of sport within early and late specializations.

Early Specialization
  • Acrobatic (gymnastics, diving, figure skating)
  • Highly kinesthetic (important to engage in activities that involve snow, water or a horse early on e.g. snowboard, swimming, synchro, equine)
  • Demanding and complex motor skill requirement
Late Specialization
  • Early Engagement
  • Kinesthetic (alpine ski, freestyle ski, luge, cross country ski)
  • Team (basketball, ice hockey, baseball, rugby, soccer, water polo, field hockey)
  • Visual (tennis, badminton, squash, fencing)
  • Standard (typical timing of specialization – majority of sports fit into this category)
  • Very Late Specialization (cycling, wakeboard)
  • Very Late Specialization; Transfer – when the skills developed in one sport allow an athlete to smoothly transition into another sport (rowing, triathlon, volleyball – beach and indoor, bobsleigh)
Specializing early on in a single, late specialization sport contributes to:
  • One-sided, sport-specific preparation
  • Lack of ABCs, poor basic movements and fundamental sports skills
  • Overuse injuries
  • Early burnout
  • Early retirement from training and competition

>> Learn about the next key factor: Developmental Age

To read the entire Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity 3.0 resource paper, click here.