There are right times and wrong times to specialize in any one sport or physical activity. Specialize too early, and the athlete may limit their development and success at older ages. Specialize too late, and the athlete may miss a key stage of development.

Should your 7-year old be completely focused only on speed skating? Or is it better for her to participate in a number of sports and choose one to focus on in a few years?

There are right times and wrong times to specialize in any one sport or physical activity. It depends if the sport is a late-specialization or early-specialization sport.

Speed skating is a late specialization sport, like basketball, soccer and hockey and skater will be more sucessful if they have participated in a range of different sports and activities prior to their teen years. In most sports, athletes should not specialize until they are between the ages of 12 to 15. Prior to that age, they should participate in a wide range of sports to ensure they become good, well-rounded athletes who have acquired physical literacy. In speed skating, there is an added element of specialization between Short Track and Long Track which should not occur until the late teens.

This factor has a significant effect on the sport of speed skating. Understanding, implementing, and promoting the importance of basic FUNdamentals in our skaters has limited some of our skaters’ potential in the later stages of development. Speed Skating falls into the late specialization sport category, therefore special attention and consideration needs to be taken in our training and competitive programs for our young skaters.

It has been noted among many sports that specializing before the age of 10 in late specialization sports can contribute to:

  • One-sided, sport-specific preparation
  • Lack of ABC’s, the basic movement and sports skills
  • Overuse injuries • Early burnout
  • Early retirement from training and competition

Although speed skating has experienced much success, we have also experienced the pitfalls of early specialization by many of our young skaters. Attention to this area will greatly improve our depth in Canada, as well as promote life long participation in our sport. Early involvement in the FUNdamentals stage and mastering basic sport skills and movements is essential in late specialization sports. Staff at Speed Skating Canada's National and Regional Training centres regularly need to introduce remedial skills programs to correct shortcomings in athletes who specialized too early and never mastered basic sport skills or have developed muscular inbalances which can compromise a skater's long term development and make them succeptible to injury.

The contents of this page were prepared using information from SSC's Racing on Skates and Find Your Edge document as well as resources from Canadian Sport for Life. To learn more about the Active Start stage of development and Physical Literacy visit www.canadiansportforlife.ca and www.activeforlife.ca.