Current Lesson
Course Content

Specialising vs Generalising (Events/Sports)




Whether a young athlete generalises or specialises can play a significant role in shaping their athletic journey. So, what do these terms actually mean and how can each impact an athlete?




In short, generalisation is when an athlete remains involved in a variety of different sports throughout the year. Encouraging your young athlete to participate in multiple sports can offer several benefits:

  • It promotes overall athleticism.

  • Helps prevent burnout.

  • Helps reduce overuse injuries associated with early specialisation.

  • Provides a broader foundation of skills.




Specialisation is when an athlete decides to focus entirely on one specific sport and often participates in that sport all year round.

If your child shows exceptional talent, passion, and dedication in a particular sport, specialising may be worth considering. It requires support and commitment from parents to provide the necessary resources, including sport-specific coaching, training facilities, and competitions. However, it's crucial to monitor your athlete's physical and emotional wellbeing, ensuring that they maintain a healthy balance and enjoy their chosen sport.

Specialising in a sport at a young age can offer several potential benefits:

  • It allows them to focus their time, energy, and resources on developing specific skills and expertise in their chosen sport.

  • It can lead to improved technique, tactical understanding, and physical conditioning in a particular discipline.

  • It can provide opportunities for early talent identification and development, enabling young athletes to gain a competitive advantage and potentially advance to higher levels of competition.

  • It can provide a sense of passion and commitment towards their chosen sport, allowing them to set and pursue long-term goals, and develop a strong work ethic and discipline.


However, there are downsides to specialisation:

  • Overuse injuries are common due to repetitive movements and intense training. This can be especially problematic for young athletes whose bodies are still growing and developing.

  • Psychological demands can become intense as athletes face high expectations and limited time for relaxation and other activities. This, especially when combined with intense physical training can increase the chances of burnout.

  • Skill development may be limited as movements present in other sports may not be present.

  • Social opportunities can be missed as contact can be limited to one set of training partners.

  • Enjoyment and intrinsic motivation may be adversely impacted if athletes feel pressured.

Although there are several high-profile athletes famous for early specialisation, namely Tiger Woods, and Venus and Serena Williams, an increasing number of ‘experts’ are now tending to favour delayed specialisation. Their view is that participation in a variety of sports early on ultimately benefits the sport they finally specialise in.

The perfect example of this is the tennis player Roger Federer. His mother, a tennis coach, is said to have insisted that he continued a variety of other sports (namely badminton and basketball) during his early years, and it is these sports that he now attributes his superior hand-eye coordination in his tennis. It is also worth noting he was still at the top of the game at 41 years of age when he retired, further fuel for the generalisation-longevity argument!

Roger Federer won Wimbledon in 2017. Pic: APRoger Federer, arguably the best tennis player of all time and a fan favourite (Image by AP)




Expert Guidance


Specialising vs Generalising (Athletics example):

Do Multiple Sports Whilst You're Young:


How You Can Help


  • Although it obviously creates additional logistical complications for you as parents, encourage them to continue with other sports in the early years. Children in general benefit profoundly from participation in a wide variety of sports whilst their bodies are developing.

  • Each different movement will improve their ‘motor skills’, the movement of specific muscles to perform certain tasks. A greater variety of sports/events will therefore benefit a greater number of muscle movements.

  • Athletics, for example, as a multi-event sport, provides an opportunity to take part in a large variety of running, jumping, and throwing activities, all in one place. Encourage them to have a go at everything.

  • As parents, it’s tempting to assume (often from a school sports day performance!) that a specific event is their ‘speciality’. Unless they’re given an opportunity to try other events, how can you know they won’t actually be more suited to another event? They might even be destined to become the next Jessica Ennis-Hill or Daley Thompson and excel at many events!

  • Beyond the physiological benefits of improved motor skills, generalisation is, importantly, more likely to mean more fun… the whole reason children should participate in sports.

  • Avoid the ‘too much too soon’ trap that early specialisation can bring. This can be counterproductive as it increases the likelihood of them losing interest and quitting altogether.

  • Early specialisation can also increase the likelihood of injury due to the repetitive use of specific body parts. This is especially problematic for young athletes, where the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc. are still developing and are more vulnerable.

Take Home Point

Emerging evidence suggests that specialisation in a single sport that involves intense, year-round training, can result in issues that can adversely affect young athletes, eg. overuse injuries, psychological pressure, and burnout. Parents need to be cautious when considering this as an option for their young athletes.

Experts now think that participation in a variety of sports can ultimately benefit the sport they eventually choose to specialise in.

It’s important to remember, that every young athlete is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The decision to specialise could be a life-changing one and, as such, guidance should ideally be sought. Weighing up the pros and cons of each option will be an important part of the decision process. An athlete’s health, wellbeing, and happiness should always remain the priority.

Of course, it goes without saying that specialisation should never be driven by a parent’s overenthusiastic ambitions for their young athlete's sporting potential but by the athlete’s own desires.

Evidence-Based Research


Our content is supported by the following evidence-based research:


  • Jayanthi, N.A., LaBella, C.R., Fischer, D., Pasulka, J. and Dugas, L.R., 2015. Sports-specialized intensive training and the risk of injury in young athletes: a clinical case-control study. The American journal of sports medicine, 43(4), pp.794-801.

  • Myer, G.D., Jayanthi, N., Difiori, J.P., Faigenbaum, A.D., Kiefer, A.W., Logerstedt, D. and Micheli, L.J., 2015. Sport specialization, part I: does early sports specialization increase negative outcomes and reduce the opportunity for success in young athletes?. Sports health, 7(5), pp.437-442.

  • Popkin, C.A., Bayomy, A.F. and Ahmad, C.S., 2019. Early sport specialization. JAAOS-Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 27(22), pp.e995-e1000.

Get Started button