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Youth sport specialisation: the need for an evidence-based definition
  1. Neeru Jayanthi1,
  2. Stephanie A Kliethermes2,
  3. Jean Côté3
  1. 1 Departmens of Orthopaedics and Family Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Emory Sports Medicine Center, Johns Creek, Georgia, USA
  2. 2 Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  3. 3 School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Neeru Jayanthi, Orthopaedics and Family Medicine, Emory Sports Medicine Center, Johns Creek, GA 30097, USA; neerujayanthi{at}

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A historical perspective

Sport specialisation, conceptually understood to involve mono-training and repetition for the purpose of skill acquisition and athlete development for a single sport, is increasingly common in youth sports. However, it has not always been this way. Over the past 30 years, research on expertise and skill acquisition has profoundly influenced the focus and structure of youth sport programme. Particularly, Ericsson, Kramp and Tesch-Römer’s (1993) work in music renewed research interests related to the importance of deliberate practice in the development of expertise.1 Some studies in sport, using retrospective questionnaires, suggested that high volume of intense, sport-specific practice at a young age is necessary to attain expertise in one sport.2 This body of research has promoted the idea that a large quantity of intense sport-specific practice and early specialisation is a logical pathway towards adult elite sport performance, and has contributed to the popularity of youth sport specialisation.

Simultaneously, biographical studies of elite level athletes suggested that their childhood sport experiences involved sport-specific practice, and play activities and engagement in various sports. In contrast with the early specialisation approach, Côté (1999) defined sampling as an early sport participation environment characterised by diversity, both within (eg, play, practice) and between sports.3 Considering both distinctive lines of research led to equivocal results, Côté, Ericsson and Law (2005) …

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  • Collaborators A Beutler, S Marshall, D Herman, K Nagle, C La Bella, A Tenforde.

  • Contributors NJ, SAK and JC all made substantial contributions to the conception of this editorial with all editing and revisions and gave final approval of the version to be published. The authors are to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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