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UK Coaching Team
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Developing Mindsets

Exploring Identity Through an Individual’s Sporting Lifecycle

In the second resource in this mini-series, Sport Psychologist Rebecca Chidley and UK Coaching’s Chris Chapman explore early specialisation and adolescence and how this influences a participant’s identity

Identifying individuals as athletes can be fantastic: it serves as a solid foundation for healthy identity development and empowerment. However, what happens when a young person begins to see themselves as only an athlete – e.g. ‘I am a football player’ – to the exclusion of everything else?

What is early specialisation?

Early specialisation is defined as a deliberate focus on training and development in a single sport. Early specialisation occurs when an individual:

  • chooses to participate in one sport from an early age
  • quits other sports to focus only on one sport
  • participates in this sport for greater than eight months per year.

It may seem tempting to encourage children to specialise in one sport at an early age, as early specialisation arguably gives the individual the opportunity to focus on the sport-specific skills, creating a clear pathway for lifelong participation or chance of reaching the top.

However, the reality is the pathway to elite performance is much more complicated and requires a more open and broad approach to sport participation, development, and performance.

The development of movements and skills across multiple sports is beneficial for all participants, as is the different experiences these bring through new coaches and environments.

Here are three challenges that individuals may experience if they opt for early specialisation:

It is often noticed that individuals form an identity based on ‘instant gratification’ or early success. It’s important to ensure that you also consider the impact this may have, given their current stage of development and maturation status.

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