Developmental Activities That Lead to Dropout and Investment in Sport
MetadataShow full item record
Background: Studies suggest that expert performance in sport is the result of long-term engagement in a highly specialized form of training termed deliberate practice. The relationship between accumulated deliberate practice and performance predicts that those who begin deliberate practice at a young age accumulate more practice hours over time and would, therefore, have a significant performance advantage. However, qualitative studies have shown that a large amount of sport-specific practice at a young age may lead to negative consequences, such as dropout, and is not necessarily the only path to expert performance in sport. Studies have yet to investigate the activity context, such as the amount of early sport participation, deliberate play and deliberate practice within which dropout occurs. Purpose: To determine whether the nature and amount of childhood-organized sport, deliberate play and deliberate practice participation influence athletes' subsequent decisions to drop out or invest in organized sport. It was hypothesized that young athletes who drop out will have sampled fewer sports, spent less time in deliberate play activities and spent more time in deliberate practice activities during childhood sport involvement. Participants: The parents of eight current, high-level, male, minor ice hockey players formed an active group. The parents of four high-level, male, minor ice hockey players who had recently withdrawn from competitive hockey formed a dropout group. Data collection: Parents completed a structured retrospective survey designed to assess their sons' involvement in organized sport, deliberate play and deliberate practice activities from ages 6 to 13. Data analysis: A complete data-set was available for ages 6 through 13, resulting in a longitudinal data-set spanning eight years. This eight-year range was divided into three levels of development corresponding to the players' progress through the youth ice hockey system. Level one encompassed ages 6–9, level two included ages 10–11 and level three covered ages 12–13. Descriptive statistics were used to report the ages at which the active and dropout players first engaged in select hockey activities. ANOVA with repeated measures across the three levels of development was used to compare the number of sports the active and dropout players were involved in outside of hockey, the number of hours spent in these sports, and involvement in various hockey-related activities. Findings: Results indicated that both the active and dropout players enjoyed a diverse and playful introduction to sport. Furthermore, the active and dropout players invested similar amounts of time in organized hockey games, organized hockey practices, specialized hockey training activities (e.g. hockey camps) and hockey play. However, analysis revealed that the dropout players began off-ice training at a younger age and invested significantly more hours/year in off-ice training at ages 12–13, indicating that engaging in off-ice training activities at a younger age may have negative implications for long-term ice hockey participation. Conclusion: These results are consistent with previous research that has found that early diversification does not hinder sport-specific skill development and it may, in fact, be preferable to early specialization. The active and dropout players differed in one important aspect of deliberate practice: off-ice training activities. The dropout players began off-ice training at a younger age, and participated in more off-ice training at ages 12 and 13 than their active counterparts. This indicates a form of early specialization and supports the postulate that early involvement in practice activities that are not enjoyable may ultimately undermine the intrinsic motivation to continue in sport. Youth sport programs should not focus on developing athletic fitness through intense and routine training, but rather on sport-specific practice, games and play activities that foster fun and enjoyment.