Pictured above is Brian O’Driscoll, Irish captain at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. He has captained Ireland to the Grand Slam title, was IRB World Rugby player of the year in 2001 and recently voted World Rugby player of the decade 2000 – 2009. In truth, he probably could have been a world-class athlete in any of 3-4 sports.

Kids today are involved in formal training structures at club, provincial and national level from an early age e.g. 7-8 years old. This can lead to an early specialization in one particular sport, at the expense multilateral development. The European literature suggests that early specialization shouldn’t take place before 15 years. Colibaba et al. (1998) highlighted the characteristics of European athletes who developed strong motor and physical foundations in sports such as soccer, cross-country skiing, running, skating, swimming and cycling at junior level and found the following:

1. Ages 7-8, most kids started formal training

2. The best international Russian athletes had an extensive multilateral development

3. Specialised training started between the ages of 15-17

4. Athletes that specialized early had their best career results as juniors (<18 years). These performances/results were never maintained into senior competition (>18 years). A small minority transitioned to professional level

5. Most top-class athletes trained in a structured environment from 14-18years, and most did not achieve junior level success nor held junior records. However, at senior level, most became national or international champions in elite level sports

6. The successful athletes highlighted the importance of their multilateral development as a major part of their success