The Myth of ‘Early Specialisation’

In last week’s blog we discussed some causes of athlete burnout specific to young athletes and competitors. There are many elements that contribute to burnout, but today we will be chasing the slightly controversial topic of ‘early specialisation’.

In many sports, there is an illusion that in order to become a World Champion, the athlete must specialise from a very young age. When they say specialise, they mean only training and developing in the one sport, and focussing 110% of their time and efforts into training for that sport. I can’t even begin to paint a picture of just how many issues arise from this concept so we will address it in terms of burnout. This belief is founded on the idea that the earlier the child specialises in the sport, the more successful they will be later on. That they will develop and progress faster than their competition and achieve more, compared to a child that plays multiple sports and activities. Let’s bust this myth right open!

In Karate specifically, we have seen many early specializes, burn out and leave the sport before the age of 21. Ideally, the athlete should be hitting their prime and medalling at 21, so what’s the deal? What I like to call ‘the terrible toos’: Too much, too soon at too hard an intensity. Ever tried to sprint at the same intensity and speed for 300m? Good luck! You can only go that hard and fast for a short period of time before your body slows itself down.

At Twins we like to focus on long-term athlete development. With the Olympics in our midst it is of paramount importance that our athletes are not just technically ready, but are mentally prepared for what they can achieve. If they are already starting to get tired, losing enthusiasm, lacking passion and viewing training as a chore, then we have red flags to address. In addition, ‘some of the negative consequences of specializing in one sport too early are overuse injuries and chronic injuries such as rotator cuff injuries, stress fractures, and ACL injuries, especially in female athletes. Early specialization also contributes to a one-dimensional self-concept as a result of “a constrained set of life-experiences’ (Balyi et al, 2013).

A positive correlation has been found between children participating in multiple sports at a young age and becoming an elite athlete. This is due to the the athlete’s exposure to a broader range of movement biomechanics and decision-making skills which both contribute to success later in their teenage years. The resounding evidence shows that, in order to reach excellence in elite sport, early specialisation is not, in fact, a determinant, rather the development of “physical literacy” (the body’s ability to engage in multiple planes and styles of movement/coordination) is key to long term success.

So, ‘when sport-specific training begins too early, athletes have less success in their sporting careers. Consequently, late specialization is encouraged (Balyi et al, 2013).

If you would like to learn more about athletic development for children, a book that Sensei Lance has read and taught from is ‘Long Term Athlete Development by Istvan Balyi, Richard Way and Colin Higgs. It is a great read for any parent, coach or athlete to better understand the training principles that underpin the blueprint for creating a World Champion.

Waiver and Release

I, the undersigned Student, freely and willingly agree to participate in martial art training with Fight Physio Pty Ltd trading as Twins Martial Arts (TMA). I hereby assume full responsibility and liability for all damages, injuries and losses that I may sustain or incur while participating in training at TMA. 

I realise that serious injury is commonplace in martial arts such as the martial arts that I am participating in and that death is a possibility, as remote as it may be. I also realise that if I am injured, I might be disfigured, disabled and/or rendered unable to work again. By participating in martial arts training, I fully accept and assume liability for any and all injuries that I may incur and I expressly waive and agree to hold TMA harmless in relation to any and all claims that I, other students, spectators, or any other person might have for any injury regardless of its nature, or effect as a result of my participation at TMA classes or events held or participated in by TMA. 

I further agree to follow all TMA rules and lawful instructions given by TMA instructors or personnel while participating in classes or TMA events. I acknowledge that failure to follow TMA rules and instructions could lead to serious injury to me, other students, instructors, or other persons.  

I authorise, and agree to hold harmless, any medical personnel that may be present at or called to TMA to take any necessary action, should I become injured whilst at training or any other event. 

I warrant that all personal information I have provided to TMA is true and correct and agree to immediately advise TMA if my details change. I agree to indemnify TMA in relation to any damages or loss it suffers or may suffer as a consequence of my personal information being incorrect in any way.  

I represent that I am in good health, that I am not presently and will not participate in any classes or TMA event while under the influence of any drug, medication, or alcohol. I have read and understood every provision of this release and I am legally competent to freely provide this waiver, release and assumption of risk. 

The indemnities and waivers provided in this document shall survive the duration of the event and shall bind me, my heirs, legal personal representatives, successors, and permitted assignees. 

In the event that the Student is under the age of majority, this waiver and agreement shall be signed by a legal guardian of the Student and shall bind the Student and the Student’s legal guardian. 

Warning under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 (Victoria) Under the Australian Consumer Law (Victoria), several statutory guarantees apply to the supply of certain goods and services. These guarantees mean that the supplier named on this document (being TMA) is required to ensure that the recreational services it supplies to you: 

1. are rendered with due care and skill; and 

2. are reasonably fit for any purpose which you, either expressly or by implication, make known to the supplier; and

3. might reasonably be expected to achieve any result you have made known to the supplier. 

Under section 22 of the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act, TMA is entitled to ask you to agree that these statutory guarantees do not apply to you. If you sign this document, you will be agreeing that your rights to sue TMA under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 if you are killed or injured because the services provided were not in accordance with these guarantees, are excluded or restricted to the greatest extent permitted by law. 

NOTE: The change to your rights, as set out in this document, does not apply if your death or injury is due to gross negligence on TMA’s part. Gross negligence, in relation to an act or omission, means doing the act or omitting to do an act with reckless disregard, with or without consciousness, for the consequences of the act or omission. See regulation 5 of the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Regulations 2012 and section 22(3)(b) of the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012. 


I expressly agree that in exchange for being permitted to participate in TMA’s activities: 

1. I release from liability, agree never to sue, and hold harmless, to the maximum extent permitted by law TMA, as well as its employees and associates, for any bodily injury or death and for any damage, loss or theft of any personal property which I may incur while on TMA’s premises or which arises from my participation in any TMA activities, regardless of cause, including the alleged negligence, gross negligence, or strict liability of TMA. This includes a release of my rights to sue in relation to the provision of recreational services (as that term is defined in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) and the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 (Vic)) where the services or recreational activities are not provided in accordance with certain statutory guarantees; and 

2. If I or any legal representative on my behalf files a claim or lawsuit arising out of my participation in any TMA activity, I agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless TMA for any damages, legal fees or costs arising out of such claim or lawsuit. 

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