As recently as a week ago I had a friend who knows what I do ask me whether his son should concentrate on one sport exclusively. In no uncertain terms I told him, no way!
There are all sorts of so-called experts out there claiming that early specialization is the way to go for creating young athletes. But there at least are several problems with that concept.
One. That there is no supporting evidence to back up the contention that young athletes move ahead of their peers. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to say otherwise. For every Tiger Woods or Venus Williams there are 1000 kids for whom that level of skill was never achieved and at what cost!
Two. Early specialization in sports specific kids fitness programs almost guarantees the increased likelihood of injury due to either trauma or pattern overload. Pattern overload is simply the concept of repeating the same movements over and over again, like a tennis serve or kicking a soccer ball, which eventually leads to the system breaking down. This is especially true in developing kids who don’t have the strength, endurance, and stability to constantly withstand these forces over time.
Three. Activities for kids should focus on developing global, overall athletic skills – not sport specific skills that are particular to any single sport. In the long run, these global skills will give them a broader repertoire of movement and athletic skills than specialization will create.
Four. Virtually all so called “expert” who recommend early sports specialization either doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about or has a vested interest. These means a club coach, showcase director, or sports skill facility owner who doesn’t really care about the health and long term development of your kid. Quite frankly, they only sees dollar signs.
The problem is that many parents are operating under the illusion that their kid is the next Kevin Durant or Ken Griffey. Your kid has a much better chance of getting an academic scholarship than an athletic scholarship so why not use that money for tutoring or AP class support?
Less than 3% -4% of high school athletes will play any level of college athletics and less than 2% will get scholarships – let alone a full ride. So wake up and get realistic…the kids should be playing to have fun, doing something healthy and developing a lifetime habit of movement. The purpose of them playing is not to have you live vicariously through their achievements.
I say all of this from both a parental as well as a professional standpoint. My wife and I encouraged all of our kids – six of them – to play as many sports as possible and try a variety of different activities. Our youngest did swimming, diving, played basketball, soccer, baseball and ran track and field. She played 2-3 sports all through high school and ended up running for a Division 1 track and field program in college. The point is she didn’t specialize until college.
So let the kids play a variety of sports for as long as possible. If they’re good enough they will have plenty of time to concentrate on that sport later on in their athletic life. But not when they’re 11 or 12 let alone 6 or 7!
Train hard and train smart!
Bruce Kelly MS CSCS is a personal trainer and owner of Fitness Together in Media Pa.