Should Youth Specialize In Sports?

By Joe Haefner

Specialization in youth sports is a common issue that many parents and coaches face today.

You certainly want what is best for your child. You’re also afraid that if you don’t specialize with your child, they will get left behind.

There are probably hundreds of questions circling your mind?

  • Will specialization give my child an advantage?
  • Will specialization cause burnout?
  • Does specialization help my child develop as an athlete? Or are there other options?
  • What sports should my child specialize in? Are there any?
  • At what age should specialization occur? 3rd Grade? 7th Grade? High School? College? Never?
  • Will this affect them in a positive or negative away emotionally as child and an adult?
  • How do I know if my child wants to specialize?
  • What if my child wants to specialize now? Will they burnout later?
  • Does specialization cause more injuries?
  • Socially, will it hurt my child if they don’t specialize?
  • What if specialization keeps my child out of trouble?
  • What is going spark motivation in my child to excel at sports?

I recently came across a research paper that does a very good job of citing studies and addressing many concerns regarding specializing.

If you’re serious about a healthy, physical and emotional development of your child, this is a must-read. There is only 4 pages of reading.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/08924562.2012.749160

 

Here are a few key points in the article:

In “Adult Peak” (late specialization) sports (e.g., baseball, basketball, and track and field), specialization in childhood is not an essential antecedent for exceptional sport performance as an adult.(Hill, 1993)

For clarification, baseball, basketball, and track and field are not the only adult peak sports. They are just examples.

Little research exists to document the physiological effects of highly specialized, sport-specific training compared with diversified sport training. Considering the research that does exist, there is little direct evidence to suggest the endocrine, muscular, nervous, and cardiovascular systems benefit from early specialization. (Kaleth & Mikesky, 2010)

When athletes specialize, they may be more susceptible to specific overuse injuries. Excessive stress on ligaments and joints can result in long-term, and perhaps permanent, damage in children and adolescents (Baker, Cobley, & Fraser-Thomas, 2009).

Evidence suggest specializers experience higher levels of emotional exhaustion (Stracchan, Cote, & Deakin, 2009). Emotional exhaustion is reported to be a subcomponent of athlete burnout (Gould, 2010).

Also, I am biased on this topic, so please read the paper to make your own conclusion.

The bottom line is… what is best for your child emotionally, physically, and socially… Every situation is different and you need to make the best, educated decision that you can.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

5 Comments

  1. coacheb — July 15, 2014 @ 7:07 am

    The point of any sports activity in young kids should be to create an active healthy lifestyle that develops team building skills and confidence to achieve goals that may not be obtained alone. Once this is accomplished, they may find a love of a sport that they want to specialize in and take to the next level as a player, coach or related support professional. If not, they’ve got the life skills to build their own personal support team to get where ever they want in life.
    My personal mantra – “Kill ‘I CANN’T DO THAT ! ‘ ”

  2. Rod Fiddelke — July 25, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

    Specializing in a sport is a way to be as good as you can be in a chosen sport and it works sometimes. The big question is at what age do you choose your sport. If you are truely an athlete don’t choose to early because at a young age it is hard for parents to tell what their kid is going to be really good at when they are 18 years old…….. and parents are the ones calling the shots and paying the sports fees. Specializing can work but it can also cut you out of your chances at playing other sports. What if all the pro baseball player’s parents had chosen basketball for their kids??? What if all the pro basketball player’s parents had chosen golf???? Get my drift!!!! What if the kid spends seven years specializing in a sport only to discover he or she can’t make the high school team and really loves the piano. You may want to put all you eggs in one basket to try to gain an advantage……the question is…………which basket ????????? My suggestion is if you choose to specialize wait as long as you can and allow the competition to help you decide. Are you as good as they are???

  3. Bing Fu — December 6, 2014 @ 9:07 pm

    Noted baseball performance coach recently noted that out of the 30+ major leaguers that he trains, only one of them didn’t play multiple sports in high school. And that one player was held out of football by his parents for safety reason.

  4. Bing Fu — December 6, 2014 @ 9:07 pm

    *Eric Cressey

  5. Joe Haefner — December 7, 2014 @ 10:03 am

    Thanks for the info, Bing.

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