Ford, Paul R., Ward, Paul, Hodges, Nicola J. and Williams, A. Mark (2009) The role of deliberate practice and play in career progression in sport: the early engagement hypothesis. High Ability Studies, 20 (1). pp. 65-75. ISSN 1359-8139

Experts acquire domain‐specific skills as a result of the activities in which they participate throughout their development. We examine the domain‐specific activities in which two groups of elite youth soccer players participated between six and 12 years of age. Our goal was to examine early participation differences between those who progressed to professional status at 16 years of age and those who did not. Data were contrasted to a control group of recreational‐level players and examined in the context of the Developmental Model of Sport Participation, which supports the importance of late specialization and early diversity between six and 12 years of age. The elite players who went on to attain professional status accumulated more hours per year in soccer play activities, but not in soccer practice, competition or other sports, between six and 12 years of age, compared with those who did not progress. The two elite groups averaged more hours per year in soccer practice compared with recreational‐level players, but not soccer play, competition or other sports. We propose the “early engagement hypothesis” to explain our results. Accordingly, practice and play in the primary sport between six and 12 years of age contributes to the development of expert performance in English soccer.

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