Considering long-term sustainability in the development of world class success
Posted by Dean Holden at May 23rd, 2014
Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14 Suppl 1:S383-97. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2012.706320.
Epub 2012 Jul 25.
The developmental practice patterns leading to the highest levels of success remain a subject of debate. The present study purposes to extend the body of empirical research by analysing athletic biographies from a large sample of German national squad athletes across all Olympic sports (n=1558; 57% male, 43% female). In a combined retrospective and longitudinal study utilising postal questionnaires, we evaluated the age at onset, volume, domain-specificity, variability in training and competition and success attained at different ages. Developmental practice patterns leading to rapid adolescent success and long-term senior success were inconsistent, and in some aspects contradictory. An early start-age for training and competition, early specialisation, high-intensity specific practice in the respective domain sport and little or no involvement in other sports (OS) favoured early adolescent success. Juvenile success, however, did not contribute to individual differences in success achieved at a senior age (-0.09<r s <0.03). Senior world class performers differed from national class athletes in a later age for onset of training and competition in their domain sport, later specialisation (14.4 vs. 12.1 years), more involvement in OS (training 66% vs. 51%; competitions 53% vs. 39%), but not in practice volume in their domain sport at any age. Findings were confirmed with longitudinal testing and were widely consistent across types of sports. These findings are interpreted relative to correspondence to deliberate practice and DMSP frameworks while drawing on the concept of long-term sustainability.