Young people's socialisation into sport: experiencing the specialising phase

A. MacPhail, D. Kirk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)


It can be argued that young people’s socialisation into sport follows a general pattern of sampling, specialising and investing (Côté & Hay, 2002a). In the sampling phase children participate in a range of sports for fun and enjoyment. The specialising phase involves more sport‐specific skill development and a reduction in the range of sport activities. The investment phase signals a focus on one activity and a commitment to intensive training and competitive success. This paper develops research where we previously examined the key features of the sampling phase in the junior section of Forest Athletic Club (FAC) (MacPhail et al., 2003). Continuing our involvement in an ethnography of FAC we are now able to report and discuss key characteristics of the specialising phase that were evident through young people’s involvement at the club. These include a reduction in the number of sporting activities being pursued, enjoyment and success, the notion of deliberate practice and the influence of family, school and club support on those moving into the specialising phase. We note that while some of the key features of the sampling phase carried over to the specialising phase there were subtle differences in how they were practised. We report characteristics of the specialising phase that were not evident when observing and interviewing the same athletes when they were experiencing the sampling phase. In concluding we suggest how the quality of the sporting experience in the specialising years can increase the likelihood that young people will remain involved in sport.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-74
Number of pages18
JournalLeisure Studies
Issue number1
Early online date2 Aug 2006
Publication statusPublished - 2006



  • ethnographby
  • deliberate practice
  • family
  • school

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