Youth Sports: Specializing in One Sport
Now that the spring sport season has arrived, many young athletes will pick up where they left off during the fall sports season. Some will continue with their winter sport through spring and into the summer.
This pattern of focusing on only one sport throughout the year is not uncommon among young athletes today.
Many believe that specializing in one sport, at an earlier age than their peers, will ultimately make them the best player. This, in turn, will earn them a scholarship and possibly a professional sports career.
However, this usually isn't how things work.
Negative Effects of Specialization
Numerous studies demonstrate that specialization in a sport, before the average age of 14, can have more detrimental effects than positive ones.
Most children under age 14 have not fully developed the fundamental patterns of movement required to be successful in any sport.
Early specialization can lead to:
- A loss of transferable athletic skills
- Overuse and other stress related injuries
- Higher anxiety levels
- Difficulty coping with failure
Developing Transferable Athletic Skills
Athletic skills — such as speed, balance, mental focus, jumping, and reacting — are all stressed differently in different sports.
Participating in different activities at a young age can help your children develop these athletic skills that will later transfer to their preferred activity, and ultimately make them better athletes.
Tips for Reducing Injury and Burnout
If your child is adamant about participating in one sport, here are some tips for reducing injury and burnout:
- Focus on improving overall skills and performance, not winning. Many coaches use complex game plans that can be frustrating to children that lack experience in the sport. Basic fundamentals should be taught and emphasized.
- Use proper training techniques. Children are not elite or professional athletes. Their training should reflect that. Many coaches lack knowledge of proper training techniques, which can lead to injury. Sports injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits and second leading type of injury in schools.
- Avoid overtraining. Increases in training should not be more than 10 percent per week. Increases should also not be done for the sake of increasing.
- Let the child choose the sport.
- Make sure there is an off-season. Take advantage of the down time to avoid burnout. When the next season starts, your child should be fresh, excited, and ready to participate in their sport.