The Development of Expertise in Sports

Sport expertise is described as outstanding ranking in an area based on objective measurements such as winning accolades in the said sector, receiving top remuneration, or being recognized and appreciated by peers. Because there are numerous ways to judge an athlete's knowledge or skill in their sport, the definition of expertise involves many components. In sports, however, recognition through the awarding of trophies and medals is more appreciated. Different sports have different criteria for judging skill level.David Beckham, for example, stands out as an expert in football because of honours he received, for example, being merited in 1997 as the ‘Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year’. However, Beckham was also respected amongst his peers for his achievements such as being the team captain who spearheaded Manchester United to its victory as the Premier League Winners of 1999.

Expert athletes such as Beckham are often portrayed as having a natural gift or talent responsible for their ascent to the top of their sport’s field (Morgan, 2004). However, various theories developed in sport psychology differ with the simplistic opinion by propounding that continuous and consistent engagement in a sporting activity is responsible for the expert status. Two theories especially stand out in relation to experts such as Beckham: deliberate practice and deliberate play. The two contemporary theories differ in their scope and assertions on the development of an outstanding athlete. The study hereinafter will undertake a critique of the two theories in order to determine their relevance in the development of expertise. David Beckham’s biography will be used as a case study to assess the merits of the two seemingly opposing theories.

Theories relevant to the development of expertise in sports

Deliberate Practice

Ericsson et al., developed the deliberate practice theory which emphasizes on constant improvement of performance as a prerequisite for expertise in sports. The theory propounds that practice should be highly structured with involvement of parents and coaches being a crucial part for the sharpening of the skills of an athlete in order to develop their skills and competencies. Observations from the life of David Beckham, for example, show that his parents and coaches were influential in his inspiration to become a top athlete. The young Beckham, at the time, continuously engaged in practice that was aimed at developing his expertise. The father of the elite footballer recalls observing his son kicking balls repeatedly from one spot when he was still a child, in an effort to enhance his talent in the sport. “His dedication was breathtaking. It sometimes seemed that he lived on the local field,” stated his father. The dedication to practice exhibited by young Beckham paid off, as he would ultimately become the highest paid soccer expert in the world by 2013.

The theory of deliberate practice was further propounded by many authors including Bloom who prescribed three stages which were imperative to the development of expertise. In his opinion, the first stage was the one where a child developed an interest in the game and enjoyed it with some encouragement from family members and the coach. In Beckham’s case, he had parents who were fanatics of football. The Beckham family regularly watched matches with their children thus inspiring David to become a footballer after watching his favorite team, Manchester United play. The second step comprises of the acquisition of a good coach who moulds the player and guides them through an intensive training period, such as Beckham had when he joined Manchester United Club at age sixteen. The third phase occurs when a player develops to an extent where they take charge of their training and sharpening of their skills albeit the coach and parents still play limited roles. At this juncture, the athlete has reached the peak of their performance and they are capable of becoming a specialist in the field they are in.

Cote et al., reiterate the role that coaches play during deliberate practice to develop expertise in the athletes. In the case of Beckham, for example, he underwent intensive training under the management of Manchester coach, Sir Alex Ferguson. The trainer provides social and emotional support to help the player overcome their constraints. Sir Alex Ferguson, for example, prohibited his players from alcohol consumption in order to concentrate their efforts into developing their competencies. Hard work and discipline were core tenets of the coach’s influence on his players, including Beckham.

Deliberate Play

The theory espouses the belief that talent is developed in athletes through the enjoyment of the game as opposed to adherence to a strict regimen of practice. Deliberate play is credited for longevity of players in a field thereby leading to their growth into experts. The guidelines which have to adhered in practice, as espoused in the theory of deliberate practice is refuted as being the reason behind the number of players who use doping substances in order to please their parents or coaches through winning awards, or those who opt out of sports altogether. The theory holds merit in light of the history of David Beckham. The player acknowledged that although he did not imagine become as successful in football as he became, he always loved the game and spent his time playing for his own enjoyment. The result was that the sport’s appeal made him strive harder and reach the top of the game as opposed to a narrow focus on achievements in football.

Critique of the Theories on development of expertise in sports

According to Macnamara et al., deliberate practice fails to account for individual differences which impact on expertise in sports. The idea is further exacerbated by the belief that it takes ten thousand hours or ten years to acquire mastery of a skill. However, the authors of the articles raise the important distinction between individuals and the differences in competencies. Although the article reiterates the importance of practice, it also asserts that there are variances, for example between team sports and individual games. In the latter, less practice may be required in some instances while in the former, more hours have to be put into team practice in order to align individual patterns with other members of the team. Coordination and teamwork have to be developed, a factor that is non-existent in personal athletics. The study is important in analyzing the derailing performance of Beckham after he moved to the United States to play soccer. The deterioration of performance can be partly credited to the lack of coordination and understanding with his new team members.

Hambrick et al., further posit that the manner in which the study was conducted placed an emphasis on practice and experimental rather than differential psychology. In such a scenario, any differences observed which delineate from the practice rule would be sidelined as an error. Individual differences which therefore account for the failure of some people to become experts even after the requisite hours of practice, while some who practice less become experts are ignored. Beckham, for example, is hailed as being an expert due to football technique, for example in crossing situations, as opposed to being the smartest or fastest player. Other players had different competencies , a feat that distinguishes different experts. As a result, deliberate practice may fail to account for differences in the time spent to enhance each differing trait in different players.

Vink et al., critique the focus on external motivation in deliberate practice, at the expense of intrinsic ambition which is inherent in deliberate play. The reliance on parents and coaches to develop expertise is a major facet in the theory. Beckham, for example, lacked a committed coach at a young age albeit he sharpened his skills before joining Manchester United. He was only trained for three years in the club after which he received an award as the youngest footballer of the year. In comparison, he had already practiced on his own for more than ten years thereby developing his expertise before he met Sr. Alex Ferguson. The theory’s reliance on other individuals to instill enthusiasm in a player is therefore a fallacy.

Deliberate play is also criticized as being narrowly focused on one essential part of development of expertise at the expense of the other. Vink et al., posit that both deliberate play and practice are essential for the long term success of an athlete. Garcia-Gonzalez further propounds that other factors apart from practice and enjoyment, such as the existence of competition, are critical for the development of expertise. “Without a doubt competition for places is growing stronger. It’s like that week in, week out and it’s what you want in a World Cup year. Hopefully once we qualify that will continue because you want competition, it’s what makes great teams. If no one is pushing you then you are not pushing yourself so it’s important we’ve got that,” said Beckham before the 2010 World Cup which was held in South Africa.


Both deliberate play and deliberate practice are complimentary aspects of development of expertise in sports. The biography of David Beckham shows that he was both a football enthusiast, which motivated him to become a successful player, and that he practiced for long with a good coach and supportive parents. As a result, he became an expert in football because of a combination of tenets from both theories.


Beckham, D. (2015). David Beckham: Both Feet on The Ground.

Berry, J., Abernethy, B., & Cote, J. (2008). The contribution of structured activity and deliberate play to the development of expert perceptual and decision-making skill. Journal of Sprt Exercise Psychology, 30 , 685-708.

Bloom, B. S. (1985). Developing talent in young people. New York: Plume.

Campbell, P. (2007, May 17). David Beckham: product of Sir Alex Ferguson's School of Hard Graft. Retrieved December 31, 2017, from The Guardian:

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychology Rev. , 363-406.

Garcia-Gonzalez, L., Moreno, A., Moreno, P., Gil, A., & del-Villar, F. (2015). The relationship between quantity and level of competition, and cognitive expertise in Spanish tennis players. Kineziologija, 47(1) , 91-99.

Hambrick, D. Z., Oswald, F. L., Altmann, E. M., Meinz, E. J., Gobet, F., & Campitelli, G. (2014). Deliberate practice: Is that all it takes to become an expert? Intelligence 45 , 34-45.

Macnamara, B. N., Hambrick, D. Z., & Moreau, D. (2016). How Important is Deliberate pRactice? Reply to Ericsson. Perspectives on Psychological Science , 355-358.

Morgan, G. (2004). The real David Beckham: an intimate biography. Metro Publishing Limited.

Starkes, J. L., & Ericsson, K. A. (2003). Expert Performance in Sports: Advances in Research on Sport Expertise. Human Kinetics.

Vealey, R., & Chase, M. (2015). Best Practice for Youth Sport: Science and Strategies for Positive Athletic Experiences. Human Kinetics.

Vink, K., Raudsepp, L., & Kais, K. (2015). Intrinsic motivation and individual deliberate practice are reciprocally related: Evidence from a longitudinal study of adolescent team sport athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 16 , 1-6.

Part B: Critically Discuss Career Transitions

Career transitions can be defined as the turning phases in the development of the careers of athletes. The athlete continually experiences changes in different facets of their life including the socio-cultural, athletic career and academic life, which may result in a disruption of their social or cultural equilibrium. The interaction of changes in different aspects of a sportsman’s life, for example work and personal life, can adversely affect their performance thereby requiring interventions from the coach or other members of the person’s life who still have considerable influence on them. The importance of the research into the topic of career transitions cannot be understated due to the amount of investments made by players, coaches and sponsors into the development of talent; which is lost when an individual’s abilities in a game are hindered. Several studies have been conducted with the aim of providing deeper insight and solutions to the problems associated with career transitions. The study conducted hereinafter will engage in a critical analysis of some of the recent research in the topic.

The scope of the topic of career transitions has been examined by various authors including Wylleman et al. The authors posit that termination, which was initially considered as the only transition in an athlete’s career, is not exclusive. The article therefore developed a systematic framework for the comprehension of career transitions by age of the sportsperson and factors such as level of athleticism, psychosocial, psychological and academic levels. Disruptions that could occur at age ten and below were assessed as being the initiation into sports, the experience of childhood, the influence of parents, peers and siblings, and primary education. As the athlete grows older, different career transitions abound with changes such as social influences differing from parents, to peers, to coaches and finally to families. The level of education also advances thereby posing new challenges for each level. The study is important because it acknowledges both aspects of discontinuation within an athletes' career life and without. As such, athletes can be protected or assisted through tough processes they may experience in any part of their lives because coaches and other support members are able to understand the impact of such scenarios on the individual. However, the paper fails to provide tangible solutions for individual assistance of athletes as opposed to a general interpretation of their needs.

According to Park et al., research conducted showed no impact of coping strategies adopted by coaches and athletes in preventing career transition. However, there were mechanisms which were noted as being effective in combating career transitions once confronted with them. An example is in case education which also has the ability to influence the manner in which an athlete retires. In such instances, it was important for coaches to exercise caution by informing all the members of his team on the importance of studying in order to acquire employment after they retired from the game. However, the research paper lacked in longitudinal assessments which further prevented a complete understanding of the concept of career transitions.

Stambulova and Ryba assert that to understand the concept of career transitions and overcome it, the research on the topic must be enhanced to include. Existing gaps in the field were pinpointed as being: disruptions while within the sports career. The article placed an emphasis on the review of other sources to validate its points, a feat which could cost it in future. The main attribute of the paper is however its emphasis on the cultural praxis in the research on careers of athletes. The differences between international, multinational and imported athletes are ignored and the terms interchangeably used thereby preventing a deeper understanding of the aspects of career transitions which are impactful on a cultural basis. More studies conducted in the subject would enhance the ability to develop better solutions that would address different sportspersons.

Stambulova further enhances the literature in the field by emphasizing the importance of contextual and cognitive factors in the research on career transitions. The author posits that the majority of athletes (80%) undergo a crisis at the transition in their careers from junior to senior levels while those who undergo crisis due to retirement are less, standing at a meager 20%. Cognitive factors in the development of understanding of decisions and factors which influence the transition was attributed as being behind the decrease of the career transition crises with age. Coping is encouraged in the article as a mechanism through which sportspersons can deal with changes such as stagnation, progression and decays in their careers. The article aptly describes the situation which both young and old individuals undergo in their careers. As a result, it provides relevant solutions such as the provision of an understanding environment and motivation of the players in order to prevent the deterioration of their performance because of the transitions in their careers.

Knights et al., discuss the distinction between elite athletes and others at the end of their career transitions. The authors argue that the stature of athletes affects their ability to adjust to the transition at the end of their careers. The research paper delved into a novel aspect in the field of career transitions by assessing the differences in individual abilities and expertise as relates to career transitions. Moreover, the article propounded the scenario whereby elite athletes’ careers were abruptly ended, for example due to injuries.

Ivarsson et al., conducted a research which analyzed injuries as a career transition in sport psychology. The authors analyzed the manner in which injuries affect elite athletes’ abilities in career transition. In instances where elite athletes were incapable of continued excellent performance, they were adversely affected by their forceful retirement. However, the authors failed to analyze the impact that such injuries have on sportspersons who are not at the top of their fields. The result is that a bias can be effected in the counseling and handling of athletes who are injured based on the belief that only excellent athletes are critically affected by injuries which result in a career transition.


Research into the topic of career transition has captured various facets of the topic including cultural, age, gender and end of career transitions and the manner in which different athletes handle them. However, most of the research is based on the abilities of the sportspersons as opposed to different solutions for the problem at hand. Career transitions should be handled through counseling as well as other mechanisms such as the assistance to get into other careers.


Garcia-Gonzalez, L., Moreno, A., Moreno, P., Gil, A., & del-Villar, F. (2015). The relationship between quantity and level of competition, and cognitive expertise in Spanish tennis players. Kineziologija, 47(1) , 91-99.

Ivarsson, A., Stambulova, N., & Johnson, U. (2016). Injury as a career transition: Experiences of a Swedish elite handball player. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology , 1-17.

Knights, S., Sherry, E., & Ruddock-Hudson, M. (2016). Investigating elite end-of-athletic-career transition: A systematic review. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 28.3 , 291-308.

Park, S., Lavallee, D., & Tod, D. (2013). Athletes career transition out of sport: a systematic review.

Stambulova, N. B. (2017). Crisis-transitions in athletes: current emphases on cognitive and contextual factors. Current Opinion in Psychology 16 , 62-66.

Stambulova, N., & Ryba, T. (2014). A critical review of career reserach and assistancethrough the cultural lens: towards cultural praxis of athletes' careers. International Review of Sports and Exercise Psychology, 7(1) , 1-17.

tudy of adolescent team sport athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 16 , 1-6.

Wylleman, P., Alfermann, D., & Lavallee, D. (2004). Career transitions in sport: European perspectives. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 5 , 7-20.

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