The purpose of this study was to identify the quantity and type of sporting activities undertaken by expert team sport athletes in the earlier stages of the long- term athlete development. Experts in roller-hockey (n = 19), volleyball (n = 14), soccer (n = 42) and basketball (n = 37) provided detailed information about the sporting activities they undertook throughout their careers. Results showed considerable variation between and within sports; however, generally, athletes began participating in sports between 6 and 10 years of age. The pattern of participation in specific and non-specific (team, individual and combat) sports for each stage of involvement demonstrated an increase in the number of activities participated in until early adolescence. Our results suggest that involvement in multiple sports during early stages of development is an alternative to early specialization and add further evidence of the complexity of skill acquisition in sport. Key pointsAlthough most athletes began sport participation between 6 and 10 years of age, there was significant variation across groups suggesting considerable flexibility in the pathways to expertise.The path to expertise in volleyball was clearly distinct from the paths of basketball, soccer and roller-hockey.There is a considerable involvement in sports other than the athlete's primary sport, suggesting early specialization is not required for these sports.The pattern of participation in specific and non-specific sports for each stage of involvement demonstrated an increase in the number of activities participated in until early adolescence.
Keywords: performance; skill acquisition; specialization.