Kevin McGill on Specialization


This is Kevin McGill’s response to my post on specialization, a little different viewpoint.
One of the most famous progressions in track history is the development of Igor Nikulin, from age 6 to 21. His father had been in the Olympics, and of course, taught the little guy the basics with a very light hammer. (It is the same with Koji Murofushi) No one in the US knows exactly what the father had little Igor do. I doubt it was 100% hammer, but…the goal was to prepare him to throw in competitions each year, from a young age. When Nikulin came to the US to compete as a 17 year old, he was throwing a 16 lb hammer far in excess of what he AR was in the high school 12 lb. hammer. Hopefully, little Igor was not forced into doing throwing at such a young age. He competed until he was past 35, so he wasn’t bored with the hammer.
The Finns will start the javelin very early, but many of their top young throwers were also XC skiers. The javelin coaches there have long believed this was good javelin training. When I went there in 1993, the young throwers under 15 were better technically than any of the US elite throwers of the day.
It seems that specialization can be a cultural phenomenon. When there is an acceptance of this, maybe there is also the lack of forced activity, so common in the US. I have seen young children forced into soccer…and they cry on the sidelines. I don’t think soccer is the answer for each kid, but better parental control is. In the US, there is such an emphasis on excelling at a young age…even soccer can be ridiculous at age 8. Around here, parents have been ejected from youth games because of yelling, and carrying on. When we were in El Salvador several years back, the ONLY sport or activity available to any kid was soccer.
In Kenya, prior to this recent mess, we all recall the films of the young kids running back and forth to school, sometimes 10 miles each way. Talk about specialization. In areas where you simply don’t have money to develop full programs, you are lucky to have the ability to specialize in something…or else you do nothing. In parts of the world, it is soccer…or drugs, or just watching TV.
So, I would not put specialization in the category of evil, but rather the adults who overemphasize participation, when kids really are not ready. It is also a very competitive world we live in, and many stories of successful athletes like Eli Manning…who certainly spent a lot more time throwing a football, than anything else.
That is how I see it.
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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