The final part of my 3-part series is dealing with early sports specialization with a young athlete. Many parents will provide their child with the necessary resources to get their child in position to earn a college scholarship and, in rare cases, an opportunity to play at the pro or Olympic level. From paying for specialty coaches to investing in playing for the best travel team in the country, parents are looking for the extra edge for their child. In some cases, parents make the decision of having their child devote all their energy in just playing one sport thinking this will give their child the advantage they need to play sports at a high level. I will discuss why this thought process is wrong and how in many cases this can be more of a detriment to the athlete.
On the surface, the idea of having a young athlete devote all their time and effort into one sport is a good one. Take the example of a young baseball player. In order to become a great baseball player, it takes hours upon hours of practice to master the sport. One would think by playing another sport would interfere with the process of the young baseball player attaining mastery of baseball. This specialization of baseball with a young kid will actually hinder his development for the following reasons:
- Lack of skill development/athleticism- I discussed in part 1 of this series the importance of quality of movement and how it relates to improving athleticism. An athlete who plays solely one sport only becomes proficient at movements displayed in that sport. The lack of exposure to other movements leads to their body to become unbalanced.Furthermore, their athletic potential will never be reached due to this lack of exposure to movement. Remember, athleticism is KING in terms of how far an athlete goes on the sports spectrum (think Lebron James and Drew Brees). The more athletic one is, the better opportunity they will have playing at a high level.
- Increase risk of injury- not only does one sport hinder athletic development, it also can lead to increase risk of injury. Two major reasons injuries occur in young athletes are overtraining and major body imbalances. Both will most likely occur when a young athlete specializes in one sport.
- Mental fatigue/burnout- overtraining definitely can lead to physical fatigue. One overlooked and underrated symptom of overtraining is mental fatigue. The story is far too common. I heard of many athletes who were great at a certain sport growing up. Once they reached high school, they ended up quitting the sport they played for so many years.Ultimately, they became burned out. A sport they had once loved, now became something more like a job. We all know if you don’t love something you do, it makes it that much more difficult to stay committed to it. Additionally, these kids often feel pressure from their parents and certain peers to be good since they have devoted so much of their life to the sport. The outside pressure drove them away to another sport or from sports in general.
There are rare cases where early sports specialization is acceptable especially in an individual sport such as golf and tennis where mastery of the sport skill is huge. A child who is a genetic outlier such as Tiger Woods would be someone who could flourish in an early sports specialization environment. However, even a prodigy like Tiger Woods would greatly benefit from cross training such as lifting weights. At the end of the day, prodigies like Tiger make up about .001 percent of the population. The other .999 percent of the population would greatly benefit playing multiple sports during their developmental stages to improve athleticism, avoid burnout, and ultimately increase their ability to play sports at a high level.
Personal Trainer & Director of Athletics, Fitness Quest 10
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