Mark Rice’s PhD Thesis Proposal

Title: “Examining Specialization and Diversification in the Context of Perceptual-Motor Performance of Youth Athletes”

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Shannon Bredin (Kinesiology)
Committee members: Dr. Joe Baker (York University), Dr. LeAnne Petherick (Education), Dr Darren Warburton (Kinesiology)

Abstract: Two sporting trajectories are generally discussed and debated for the development of sport expertise: specialization (referred to as sole participation in a single sport year-round) versus diversification (known as multi-sport participation). Based on current Long Term Athlete Development models, diversification in sport is generally promoted before the age of 13. However, researchers and practitioners alike suggest that the landscape of youth sport has dramatically changed and youth athletes are increasingly encouraged to specialize in a single sport at early ages at the expense of diversification. To date, there is limited evidence-based information on the current landscape of sport participation as it relates to specialization/diversification in Canadian youth. Further, a reason for promoting a multi-sport approach is that at early stages of growth and development, individuals may gain a generic perceptual-motor capability, which lays the foundation for the development of expertise. To date, there has been mixed support for this idea, calling for further investigation. As such, the purpose of this research is: (1) to examine the current landscape of youth specialization and diversification across sport organizations in British Columbia; and (2) to examine specialization and diversification in the context of perceptual-motor skill development in youth athletes, with a focus on examining novice-expert differences in perceptual-motor capabilities and the trainability of perceptual-motor skills. The proposed research consists of four investigations: (1) a systematic review to examine the literature to date on trainability of perceptual-motor skills in youth; (2) an on-line survey examining the sporting landscape of youth sport participation (specialized vs. diversified pathways) between the ages of 6 and 16 in British Columbia; (3) a laboratory-based study examining the performance of three groups of 12-year olds (an athlete group classified as specialized, an athlete group classified as multi-sport, and a non-athlete control group) on a perceptual-motor battery; and (4) a laboratory-based training investigation to examine the influence of sport background (specialization/diversification) on the training and performance of a novel, perceptual-motor skill program in 3 groups of 12-years olds (a sport specialized group, a sport diversified group, and a non-athlete control group). Overall, this work will provide a unique contribution to the study of specialization/diversification, youth athlete development in a Canadian context, and the creation of developmentally-appropriate sport participation programming.