Sports prodigies have the ability to amaze and astound us with their breathtaking array of prodigious gifts. With their rare ability to perform at a highly-advanced athletic level at such an early age, the question becomes are these young superstars born or are they developed through specialized training programs?

Tiger Woods. Todd Marinovich. Freddy Adu. Lebron James. Michelle Wie. Jennifer Capriati. These are just a few of the well-known sports prodigies who had achieved a measure of fame before any of them had even reached puberty. In each case, superstardom was predicted and each was seen as having the ability to revolutionize their chosen sport. In some cases, the hype proved well-earned, while in other cases, athletic superstardom eluded them forever. The question is why did some of these athletes succeed so spectacularly, while other flamed out almost as brilliantly.

When discussing sports prodigies, the subject of sport specialization comes into sharp focus. The issue of sports specialization is a complicated one with many questions. The most important focus on what are the long-term physical and psychological effects on young athletes, as well on exactly how critical specializing early is to athletic greatness. The truth is that there is absolutely no correlation between focusing on a specific sport at a young age and future success. Research actually shows the opposite and that the most successful athletes are those who develop a well-rounded athletic base.

In fact, most sports training professionals feel that sports specialization should be delayed until they reach their mid-teens. Beyond the negative effects and stress that year-round emphasis of a single sport can have on a young athlete’s body, most experts feel that playing multiple sports allows youth athletes to develop a full spectrum of athletic abilities. For instance, baseball is tremendous for developing hand-eye coordination, while soccer helps players build endurance, and basketball is exceptional for building balance and explosiveness.

That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule and here are some case studies of a few of those exceptional young athletic talents and how they were developed.