Sport specialization is a continual discussion with coaches and parents. Many parents make the assumption that specialization early gives their child an advantage over other children. But, unfortunately, the opposite is almost always true.
It is hard to resist the concept that if Jennifer is getting more time in practice then she will be better than her friend Heather. After all, she'll have more experience, be stronger, be faster, and so on. Well, yes, this may be true in the short term, but long term research suggests that Jennifer will be less successful. Why? She is likely to overuse specific muscles and body parts in repetitive motions, which will lead to injuries later (or sooner). She will lack the creativity of learning about different positions, sports, and opportunities for growth physical and mental growth. She'll also be more likely to burn out and dislike the sport.
Initially, Jennifer will be successful, but in time Heather will catch up having played a variety of sports and improved more slowly, but steadily. How will this affect Jennifer's motivation when Heather catches up and perhaps even passes her?
Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) for long term success encourages multi sport participation through early to late high school. Don't just take my word for it. There are many in support of multisport athletes.
"Kids, play as many sports as you can for a s long as you can. Don't let anyone tell you, you have to specialize in something. Every sport requires different skill sets, and there is a sport in every season." (Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints)
“My trick question to young campers is always, ‘How do you learn the concepts of team offense in lacrosse or team defense in lacrosse in the off-season, when you’re not playing with your team?’ The answer is by playing basketball, by playing hockey and by playing soccer and those other team games, because many of those principles are exactly the same. Probably 95 percent [of our players] are multisport athletes. It’s always a bit strange to me if somebody is not playing other sports in high school.” (Dom Starsia, four-time national championship lacrosse coach, University of Virginia)
“The first questions I’ll ask about a kid are, ‘What other sports does he play? What does he do? What are his positions? Is he a big hitter in baseball? Is he a pitcher? Does he play hoops?’ All of those things are important to me. I hate that kids don’t play three sports in high school. I think that they should play year- round and get every bit of it that they can’t get through that experience. I really, really don’t favor kids having to specialize in one sport.” (Pete Carroll, two-time national championship football (USC) and Super Bowl champion coach with the Seattle Seahawks)
Unfortunately, parents will look to the exceptional cases who did specialize and did become successful. However, they forget the many, many athletes who followed the same path and burned out physically and mentally.
The path to success comes from participation in multiple sports, not one.
I interview OSU team doctor Tom Allen about his experiences treating athletes. I also discuss his athletic career as a Masters sprinter and how others can ensure they remain competitive throughout the lifespan.
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