Excellent article by Michael Atherton in The Times yesterday:
South African AB de Villiers scored the quickest and most brutal one-day international century in history on Sunday. As a youngster he played tennis, hockey, football, rugby, badminton and swimming as well as cricket of course. His refusal as a young man to specialise and narrow his horizons is a good lesson for all young sportsmen, their coaches and sporting bodies who demand ever more of their potential charges at even earlier ages.
Atherton emphasises the point: 'Many talented young sportsmen are being actively dissuaded from expanding their horizons as widely as possible at a young age by sporting bodies and coaches who demand that their charges specialise in one sport at increasingly early ages. It is madness.'
'Where did this pressure to specialise come from? Partly from the sports themselves who fear, in a competitive world, that they will miss out on the most talented children if they do not grab them and keep them early. Partly it is down to the pernicious effects of the now widely held belief in the '10,000-hour rule' - that you have to be constantly at it, otherwise you will fall behind your peers and won't get the hours in to become top-class. All of this is baloney. Studies suggest that early specialisation is a bad thing. In the US, 50 percent of paediatric sporting injuries came from overuse and more importantly, from repetitive strain on the same muscle/tendon/ligament group.'
'Putting every egg into a single sporting basket, is bad not just for the body, but for the mind, too. What to do and where to turn when the countless hours and days of striving at one sport come to nothing? Many have little else to fall back on when the tap on the shoulder comes.'
'The nature of his (de Villiers) sporting upbringing points the way: early participation but not specialisation; loads of sport, unstructured (albeit competitive) play as important as structured play; technical instruction taking a back seat and a broad range of interests to enable athletes to find the sport they love the most. De Villiers is an athlete who came to love cricket rather than a young man who was developed fanatically as a cricketer. And now he is just about the world's best.'