Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Sport Diversification

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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Sport Diversification is a term used to describe an individual’s participation in multiple sports as opposed to participation in one sport, also known as Sport Specialization. For children, sport diversification usually occurs between the ages of 6 to 12. Research from J. Fransen et al. (2012), terms this stage in a child’s life as the sampling stage. By “participating in various sports and engaging in many deliberate play activities designed to maximize enjoyment through less structured play and age adapted rules,” the child is more capable of fundamental movement skills, increases physical literacy and development and is more likely to continue with athletics and sport in the future (Fransen et al., 2012, p.380). This idea of multiple opportunities in play is paralleled with Stages Two and Three, FUNdamentals and Learn to Train, of Canadian Sport for Life’s Long Term Athlete Development Model (Canadian Sport for Life, 2015).

Controversy surrounds the age at which sport diversification should end and sport specialization should begin, if the benefits of diversification outweigh those of specialization and who is responsible when training athletes with diversification or specialization in mind.

Sport Diversification and Canadian Sport for Life's Long Term Athlete Development Model

FUNdamental Stage

Within Canadian Sport for Life’s Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Model, the FUNdamental Stage is during the chronological ages of females 6-8 and males 6-9 (Canadian Sport for Life, 2015). This stage focuses on fundamental movement skills and the ABCs of development—Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed (Canadian Sport for Life, 2015). In order to accomplish these developmental movements with increased ability and precision later in life, there needs to be participation in a variety of physical activity, focused on fun, to engage the child in multiple movements in different ways. Not only does variation benefit the child’s development in multiple skill acquisition, it also allows for less likelihood of burnout from a single sport (Canadian Sport for Life, 2015). “Children this age should not specialize in a single sport, unless they are participating in one of the few recognized early-specialization sports (e.g. gymnastics, figure skating, diving)” (Canadian Sport for Life, 2015).

Learn to Train Stage

After acquiring basic fundamental movement skills, the Learn to Train Stage assesses children, specifically females aged 8-11 and males aged 9-12, and their ability to convert their newfound fundamental movement skills into fundamental sport skills (Canadian Sport for Life, 2015). Rather than focus on play, this stage of the LTAD Model begins the transition into “formalized methods” of training. Although more formalized, this stage in the LTAD Model still emphasizes the multiple sport experience in order for the child to learn the maximal amount of sport skills necessary for adapting to specialization later in their chronological teenage years (Canadian Sport for Life, 2015).

Controversy: Sport Diversification and Early Specialization

Canadian Sport for Life’s LTAD Model suggests that sport should be played within a variety of domains up to a certain age and motivation of the child. For children, the progression of sport diversification to specialization is being challenged. Early specialization, the participation in one sport, is occurring more frequently in today’s children (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2011). The type of sport the child plays is a factor that will effect whether early specialization is beneficial or not. For example, Canadian Sport for Life (2015) recognizes gymnastics, figure skating and diving as early specialization sports that attain peak performance and excellence in a child's younger years. Since these types of sports are recognized as being early specialized, these children must start deliberate practice earlier in childhood. The framework by Ericsson stated “to reach the highest level of performance, one must engage in 10,000 hours or 10 years of deliberate practice in their chosen sport” (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2011). The term “deliberate practice” describes high quality and structured practice. In order for a child to reach highest level of performance, specialization would have to occur early, around the age of 5 (Hensch, 2006). Some researchers believe that early specialization will increase the chances of becoming an elite or professional athlete (Holden, 2011).

Alternatively, the lack of diversification can have negative effects on children. In 2013, Edward Wojtys stated, “intense training in a single sport to the exclusion of others should be delayed until late adolescence to optimize success while minimizing risk for injury and psychological stress.” (Wojtys, 2013) There is evidence to suggest that early specialization is not optimal for children's physical and psychosocial development. (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2011) As well, the pressure to specialize early that comes from the parents or coaches of the child can increase their stress levels. The controversy between early specialization and diversification is ongoing.

Benefits of Sport Diversification

As previously mentioned in the overview, sport diversification has long-term benefits for children engaging in physical activity over their lifespan. Using knowledge from past research and statistics, some of the benefits of sport diversification are as listed below.

Deliberate Play

“Termed deliberate play by Cote and Hay (2002), these activities often included backyard/street games that resembled a sport” (Baker, 2009, p.81). This unstructured type of play promote physical activity for young children before venturing into sport specialization. These games are also beneficial during the younger years of childhood because they actively promote intrinsic enjoyment of sport rather than extrinsic values, such as winning (Baker et al., 2009). Considering that these kinds of deliberate play games and activities are another means of producing the same benefits as sport diversification, deliberate play becomes a way of promoting general aptitude in physiological maturation and cognitive functioning necessary for later sport specialization (Baker et al., 2009).

Multiple Skill Acquisition

Sports diversification allows for multiple skills to be acquired both physical and cognitive (Moesch et al., 2011). These skills can transfer from one sport to another. Participation in multiple sports can also accelerate the development of certain movement patterns in children.

Transferable Patterns

  1. An example of similar movement patterns that transfer from one sport to another would be spiking in volleyball and spiking in tennis.
  2. An example of transferable conceptual elements would be having similar fields for different sports, such as lacrosse and soccer. The strategies to score or the specific requirements of a position are other examples of transferable conceptual elements.
  3. Perceptual elements that can transfer from sport to sport include the ability to anticipation an action or make an interception. A steal in soccer requires anticipation skills that can transfer to another sport, for example lacrosse.
  4. An example of physiological factors that crossover between sports is aerobic fitness. An endurance runner aerobic fitness capability would transfer over if they were to perform a cycling workout. (Holden, 2011)

Research and Statistics

In a study of Division 1 female National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes, only 17% had participated exclusively in their college sport. Thus 83% had participated in multiple sports before specializing in one sport. (Jayanthi et al., 2013)

Another study focused on boys aged 6-12 years researched the differences in physical fitness and gross motor control (Fransen et al., 2012). They concluded that “a positive effect of sampling various sports on explosive strength, speed and agility, cardiovascular endurance, and gross motor coordination is delayed until the age of 10-12 years, suggesting a more latent effect of participating in more than one sport on physical fitness and motor coordination” (Fransen et al., 2015, p.385). This study also found that even though there were delayed positive outcomes in performance, there were less injuries that occurred in the athletes that had longer periods of diversification than those who started specialization early (Fransen et al., 2012).

Looking from a physiological perspective, Kaleth and Mikesky (2010) summarize, early specialization does not improve or enhance physiological systems over diversification in sport training. They also state that more often injuries that are sustained in young athletes are seen in those who train with specificity in mind, rather than a multi-sport perspective (Kaleth & Mkesky, 2010).

Lack of Burnout

Another benefit of diversification is lack of burnout or drop out which can result when early specialization occurs in children. The model by Cote et al. suggest that participating in multiple sports before the age of 12 will decrease the chances of dropout in later years. (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2011)

Diverse Environments

Participating in multiple sports allows children to be coached by a variety of diverse individuals. As well, children in multiple sports have the benefit of interacting with many more teammates than if they were only on one team. Engaging in a variety of sports is said, “to allow young athletes to experience different physical, cognitive affective and psycho-social environments,” (Moesch et al., 2011) which can promote the development of intrinsic motivation.

Psychosocial Development

Participation in team sports for children benefits their psychosocial development because it can foster a sense of belonging to a community. Children will also acquire new life skills such as leadership, cooperation and discipline that can prove useful in later aspects of their lives (Cote & Fraser-Thomas, 2011).

Future Physical Activity

Participating in multiple sports provides children with the opportunity to be physically active, which can improve overall physical health and encourage a future healthy lifestyle and better health outcomes later in life. Research from Kaleth & Mikesky (2010) as well as Baker et al., (2009) stated that children who participated in more sport at an early age tended to participate in sport as well as other leisure and physical activity longer throughout their lifecourse.

Negatives of Sport Diversification

Before starting structured sport, one should understand the goals the child wants to achieve and how the means of achieving said goals are obtained. The following points suggest that sport diversification is sometimes an unnecessary or unachievable step in childhood athletes.

Deliberate Practice

“Ericcson et al. (1993) speculated that early specialization in what they termed deliberate practice (i.e. effortful practice that lacks inherent enjoyment done with the sole purpose of improving current levels of performance) was essential to the development of expertise in any domain” (Baker et al., 2003). This idea of deliberate practice was emphasized with Ericsson et al.’s studies regarding “The 10 Year Rule,” which stated in order to become an expert in their field, an individual must acquire at least 10 years of practice prior to having the designation (Baker et al., 2003). With sport diversification, individuals pursuing sports that have early specialization, such as gymnastics and figure skating, diversification is offset to produce elite athletic ability in the chosen field.

Type of Sport

Several researchers have questioned whether the benefits of diversification are applicable to all sports. Cote and Baker concluded that diversification is not beneficial when it comes to sports that required “peak performance before full maturation, such as gymnastics” (Moesch et al., 2011). Prior to 2003, Baker et al. (2003), critiqued previous research stating “researchers need to examine whether early diversification is applicable across all forms of sport or if it is restricted to a single category of sports” (p.91).


Participating in variety of sports can be time consuming for both children and parents. In large families, having multiple children playing many sports can create chaotic schedules. The clashing schedules can be difficult and stressful for parents. As well, it can interfere with common times for families to be together, for example, meal times.


Participation in multiple sports can cost a lot of money, whether it is the cost of athletic gear or costs associated with transportation such as gas, and parking rates. As well, in many organized sports there are team fees. This can put a strain on families’ finances (Holden, 2011).

Practical Application

Coaches, Teachers, and Instructors

Baker et al. (2009), suggest “coaches are advised to consider carefully the large array of influential factors in determining which types of training are most appropriate for their sport and population” (p.86). Coaches, teachers and instructors should be aware of the effects, whether positive or negative, that can accumulate from sport diversification and sport specialization given the specifics within their sport domain. They should also take into account the age of the child and what is the overall goal the child wants to achieve at the end of their sport career in order to be the most successful throughout the life course. Pressure for the child to be involved in sport should be alleviated from coaches, teachers and instructors; however, they should converse with parents and the child to determine what is best for the athletic endeavours and their future. From a scholastic perspective, these authoritative figures should explain the reality and likelihood of receiving an athletic scholarship.


The article by Lynn Hensch presented ways in which sport diversification can be promoted for children. One suggestion was that parents and coaches should reduce the pressure on children to excel in one sport. Furthermore, children should have a say about what sports they want to participate in. It is important that children are introduced to individual and team sports for optimal diversification. Moreover, schools, parents and coaches should promote the lifelong benefits that come with physical activity. Finally, it is advised that children take breaks from sports in order to avoid burnout, maintain other interests, and participate in other activities (Hensch, 2006). A solution for a busy schedule could be that a child plays one sport during the summer months and another during the winter. This allows the child to continue to participate in multiple sports but won’t have as demanding of a schedule that playing two sports simultaneously brings. When a family lacks funds, a solution could be for the child to participate in deliberate play rather than in an organized sports setting. Deliberate play is informal and can happen at school or at the park. These activities don’t require expensive equipment or facilities that organization sports require. However, it can still benefit the child's skill development.


Sport Diversification and Sport Specialization have been looked at as a binary rather than a continuum. There is a need for both diversification in sport, to have the generalized knowledge of physical development for the child, and specialization in sport, so the participant can continue to hone their practice leading to excellence and expertise at a high level. The timing of when participants should start to switch from diversification to specialization is dependent on the type of sport they are motivated to participate in because of the varying times of optimal performance based on chronological age.


Baker, J. (2003). Early Specialization in Youth Sport: a requirement for adult expertise?. High Ability Studies, 14(1), 85-94.

Baker, J., Cobley, S., & Fraser-Thomas, J. (2009). What do we know about early sport specialization? Not Much!. High Ability Studies, 20(1), 77-89.

Canadian Sport for Life. (2015). FUNdamental. Retrieved from

Canadian Sport for Life. (2015). Learn to Train. Retrieved from

Canadian Sport for Life. (2015). LTAD Stages. Retrieved from

Canadian Sport for Life. (2015). More about the FUNdamental stage. Retrieved from

Canadian Sport for Life. (2015). More about Learn to Train. Retrieved from

Cote, J., Fraser-Thomas, J. (2006). Youth sports: implementing findings and moving forward with Research. Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sports Psychology, 8(3). Retrieved from

Fransen, J., Pion, J., Vandendriessche, J., Vandorpe, B., Vaeyens, R., Lenoir, M., & Philippaerts, M. (2011). Differences in physical fitness and gross motor coordination in boys aged 6-12 years specializing in one versus sampling more than one sport. Journal of Sport Sciences, 30(4), 379-386.

Hensch, L. (2006). Specialization or diversification in youth sport? Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, 19(5), 21-27. doi: 10.1080/08924562.2006.10591211

Holden, D. (2011). Elite performance via diversification. Pathways to the Podium. Retrieved from

Jayanthi N, Pinkham C, Dugas L, Patrick B, LaBella C. (2013). Sports specialization in young athletes: evidence-based recommendations. Sports Health, 5(3), 251-257. Retrieved from

Kaleth, A., Mikesky, A. (2010). Impact of Early Sport Specialization: A Physiological Perspective. JOPERD, 81(8), 29-37.

Moesch, K., Elbe, A.-M., Hauge, M.-L. T., Wikman, J. (2011). Late specialization: the key to success in centimeters, grams, or seconds (cgs) sports. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 21: e282–e290. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01280.x

Wojtys, E. (2013). Sports specialization vs diversification. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach 5, 212. doi: 10.1177/1941738113484130