The messaging of diversification-specialization within sport-specific long-term athlete development models


The Canadian Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model is a framework for an optimal training, competition and recovery schedule for each stage of athletic development. In line with the LTAD, provincial sporting organizations are mandated to create their own sport-specific model, describing athletes' developmental trajectories. Inherent within LTAD models is the transition from diversification, where there is a focus in a number of different sports, to specialization, where there is year round commitment to a single sport. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the public messaging for specialization and diversification within LTAD models of provincial sporting organizations. A document analysis was conducted of public LTAD frameworks among five different provincial sporting organizations (Ice Hockey, Soccer, Swimming, Alpine, and Gymnastics) in British Columbia, Canada. The documents were analyzed using inductive content analysis. Results showed the emergence of two major themes: (a) the promotion of diversification for youth athletes before the age of 15; and (b) an emphasis on large time commitments to the respective sport by the age of 9. While these findings demonstrate an emphasis in public messaging on the promotion of diversification in early sport development, the frameworks also highlight the need for a large time commitment to a respective sport starting at very young ages. This messaging is conflicting in nature as an emphasis on large sport-specific time demands may serve as a barrier for young children and youth to diversify and participate in multiple sports and/or physical activities.

Acknowledgments: Funding is provided by a University of British Columbia Graduate Fellowship to the first author.