Exploring the participation pathways among high-performance varsity soccer players. is it as simple as specializing or sampling?


Research and policies around types of youth sport participation have often centered around a potentially oversimplified dichotomy: early sport specialization vs. sampling/ diversification This study aimed to explore what other modes of youth participation could be categorized, and what developmental pathways emerge from variations in modes of participation across the grassroots (5-12 years old), youth (13-15 years old), and investment (16-18 years old) stages. Retrospective participation and training data were collected from Ontario Tech University's varsity soccer players (n = 42) using a modified version of the Developmental History of Athletes Questionnaire. Twelve possible modes of participation were created based on gradations of specializations, sampling, and causal participation. Based on responses athletes only exhibited participation in 9 of the 12 possible modes of participation [Grassroots: specializers (29%), specialized samplers (38%), samplers (21%), and soccer engagers (12%); Youth: specializers (60%), specialized samplers (36%), and samplers (4%); Investment: specializers (74%) and specialized samplers (26%)]. Based on these nine modes of participation there were ten distinct athlete development pathways from grassroots to investment stages of participation. Of note, once an athlete specialized at any stage of participation, they continued to specialize at all subsequent stages of participation. As many developmental models commonly describe participation pathways as specialization and sampling, the current results suggest that these models may not reflect the realities of athlete participation.