Pathways to successful sports involvement in children and adolescents: from motor competence development to a specialisation-diversification trade-off

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis



A large number of children participate in sports and physical activity on a day-to day basis and gain considerable health, social, athletic and overall development benefits in doing so. Therefore, it is important to maximize the amount of children and adolescents that are involved in sports through a better understanding of the pathways that lead to successful sports involvement. Previous research has shown that there is a positive association between a child’s motor competence (= the ability to develop a wide range of motor skills), physical fitness and sports participation. Therefore, improving motor competence in all children might be important in getting them involved in sports. Since children with a better motor competence are able to perform a more varied range of motor skills, they might be able to successfully participate in a broader range of sports, which could possibly prevent burnout, overuse injury and thus drop out from sports. Therefore, this thesis focused specifically on motor competence development and the early diversification-specialisation trade-off as underlying factors of successful sports involvement.
To help understand the role motor competence might play in getting children involved in sports, a first study aimed to establish the KörperkoördinationsTest für Kinder (KTK) as a motor competence assessment instrument . Therefore, it investigated convergent validity between the KTK and another popular motor competence assessment instrument: the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency – 2 in 6-12 year old children. This study showed that the KTK is a valuable tool for assessing motor competence. However, it is advised that more than one test be used, especially when profiling the motor competence of children with low motor competence. A second study investigated changes in motor competence in 6-12 year old children from 6 age cohorts over a two-year time span and revealed that motor competence might be less sensitive to change later in childhood. Finally, a third study measured changes in physical fitness and sports participation between children with a low, average and high motor competence. Children with a high motor competence consistently outperformed the rest of the sample and participated in sports more often.
In the next section of this thesis, the emphasis is on the early specialisation versus early diversification debate as a factor influencing successful sports involvement. A first study investigated differences in anthropometry, physical fitness and gross motor coordination between 6-12 year old children who participate in one or more than one sport. Diversifying children showed a better fitness and motor competence than those who participated in just one sport. The last two studies investigated the existence of field position specific differences in physical performance in youth handball and rugby union and showed that even at a youth level, children playing at different field positions, have significantly different performance profiles.
In conclusion, the research in this thesis acknowledges the importance of motor competence development and a diversification-specialisation trade-off in the pathways leading to successful sports participation in children and adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Ghent University
Award date16 Jan 2014
Place of PublicationBelgium
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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