Sports specialization not the key to athletic success
By Joe Black | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I’ve been down this road before but I had a father and son sit down with me just last week and asked me what I thought about the son cutting back to just one sport.
This is a youngster who has played football, basketball, soccer, swimming, and baseball.
When I asked him which was his favorite, he struggled to find an answer.
But it seems that a rather well known local coach has asked him to play on his traveling team which would require him to give up all other sports.
That would be part of the deal: this kid and his family would even be asked to sign an agreement that they would devote their full attention to this one team.
Obviously, he has demonstrated some promise in this one sport (I’m trying to leave the sport out of this discussion just to keep from condemning any one sport). This youth sports coach actually told the family that he could see a career in the game from this young man.
Did I mention that the kid was 10? 10!
The father was genuinely interested in doing what was best for his son. A family of very modest means, a college scholarship might mean the difference between a college education and a job right out of high school.
He was appropriately worried that his son might miss out on some things.
Like missing the fun of the games that he might play.
And growing up and playing sports with strangers instead of his friends from his home community. This can be a real dilemma for a lot of families.
Almost always, there is a youth sports coach out there “recruiting” the best players. The parents might be on that coach’s side, which puts a lot of pressure on the youngster. Or the parents might not agree at all, which can put them in conflict with their child. This monster is called “sports specialization” and is best defined as year-round training in a single sport.
At its best, it can be a travel squad from a community that gives youngsters competitive opportunities that can help a young athlete grow.
At its worst, it can cause families to move across the country or to send their child to a boarding school or academy where they get the opportunity to be raised by someone else.
The good news is that youth sports participation is on the upswing, going from 9% in 1997 to 12% in 2008 in children 6 and younger.
But I would respectfully suggest that early sports specialization is not the key to athletic success.
A survey done by Robert Malina and published in 2010 found that among Division 1 college soccer players, only 17% listed soccer as their first sport. The point was that diversification was the most important ingredient in producing college athletes. Early sports specialization also increases the change of injuries. That one has been proven in many studies.
Not to mention the problems of burnout. My advice?
Until this youngster can identify what is his favorite sport AND until he reaches late adolescence, play it all.
Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Write to him at (email@example.com)