I think it's becoming quite clear that a lot of coaches/former athletes/parents are concerned about athletes specializing in a sport too young or even in high school. Times are catching up where we are realizing that our young athletes are getting overuse injuries from their sport, can throw a ball better than they can perform a push up, and have a sports schedule that is all year round now. Times are changing fast, and the model for our young athletes don't seem to be changing any time soon. Have things gone too far to turn back around? Is there anything we can do to help manage their year long sport schedule?
My goal for this Lifestyle Blog post is to help allow you understand why Early Sport Specialization could be detrimental to young athletes, realizing that it's probably not going to change any time soon, and that if we choose to stay this route what I think can help solve a couple concerns that come with this sport schedule.
What Are The Main Issues With Early Sport Specialization?
At first glance, it may seem like a good idea to specialize an athlete early on in their sports career (12 and under) if they show signs of excellence in it. The thinking of trying to capitalize on talent at a young age could only give them a much more advantage in the future. Or have the thought of, everyone else is playing year round, my child better do the same if he/she doesn't want to get left behind. But any extreme actions will always come with a cost. There are some negatives to this, so let me point out a few flaws that could potentially happen to these athletes.
Please let these implications sink in before we move on...
I'm Not Sure What The Future Holds
When I was in Youth Sports, Junior High, and High School, I was never really aware of the idea of specializing in one sport, even though by the time I was 16, I was left focusing on one sport 100% which was football. I never looked at it as "specializing," I just wanted to focus on football and to be honest, I rather play football and train for it more than I rather play for other sport teams. So personally, I can't say I am confused by this new wave of sports culture, but I know if I could go back I would change a couple things. This Lifestyle Blog isn't about me, just giving you some insight, so lets move on...
The reality of players specializing in one sport is a normal conversation in the athletic world. Athletes are specializing much younger now too. Unlike waiting until you're deep in your high school career. Trends are taking place in sports to go all in because of competition levels are raising each year. Few athletes seem to have the athletic abilities to jump from sport to sport and still outperform the athletes that play it all year round. But for the rest, they may feel pressure to focus on one sport very early on. Below are a couple reasons where the pressure is coming from.
So as much as I'd love to see some pressure released from these young athletes and rebuild a sports model in this country that encourages our youth and high school athletes to play multiple sports. And to allow athletes, parents, and coaches to have the awareness that when it comes to college, the cream will rise to the top. But for now, I just don't see that shift happening anytime soon.
What Do I Think Should Happen Next?
You can call me being biased all you want right now, but I have come to grips that this model of athletes playing all year round isn't going anywhere any time soon. It may take a couple generations for this to die off. But until then, I highly suggest that these athletes coming to realization that if they want to play Baseball, Volleyball, Motocross, Basketball, etc all year long, then you better be spending at least 8 months out of the year in the gym building physical abilities and preventing yourself from injuries. High concentrations of repetitive movements is a recipe for injuries, unless you are doing something about it to build and protect yourself physically off of the field, court, or track. Two to three times a week of short gym workouts can go a long ways to keeping an athlete healthy and on a positive note, actually allow you to play this sport that you're so passionate about, at a higher level!
I get it, athletes are specializing too early too often. Coaches are struggling to fill rosters because athletes are limiting their sports that they play. Injuries are happening that shouldn't and some athletes are missing out on certain athletic abilities that their sport doesn't provide. But try to get comfortable with this culture of athletics, because myself and your Facebook posts about Christian McCartney article about playing multiple sports aren't going to change anything (yet). We have to figure out ways to keep our young athletes safe and healthy if this is the road we're letting them go down. I am highly against specializing at the youth level, but once the athlete becomes mature enough to start thinking about their future (13-16 years of age) and they want to start focusing more on one sport, you better be ready to keep their physical abilities up to speed with their sport skills. We can at least try to do this for our athletes!
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Physical Prep Coach & Owner of Joel Younkins Training.