Should My Child Specialize In One Sport?
Does your child play more than one sport? The more opportunities or diversification in sports and other activities young children have with a focus on playing instead of practicing will encourage a love for sport. This system will help to ensure a lifelong passion for involvement in sports and fitness. As children reach adolescence a more structured practice may ensue to develop more specific skills and knowledge of the game.
Does Early Sports Specialization Help?
Youth athletes are often pressured into playing one sport at an early age. Most of the time the intentions from parents or coaches are good. However, research shows that at an early age playing multiple sports, participating in a strength/performance program, and monitoring volume and rest of sport participation, are the some of the best ways to avoid overuse injuries, burnout and/or drop out and increase chances of achieving a high level of performance.
Why Should My Child Play More Than One Sport?
Accurate talent identification and performance measures of youth athletes is very complex, especially at an early age. Children develop and mature at different times and rates. Therefore, playing multiple sports will help identify talent, potential and help a child discover the sport(s) that they will enjoy and possibly excel.
Physically and cognitively, early exposure to multiple sports helps youth develop and acquire skills that may transfer to other sports, enhance motor development faster and increase athletic capacity. Participation in multiple sports helps build both fundamental motor skills (e.g., running, jumping and hopping) and sport-specific skills (e.g., shooting a jump shot or throwing a baseball). These skills can also be transferred to other sports and leisure activities, promoting increased participation and involvement.
At a young age, when the stakes are low, is the best time to compete against opponents with different physical capabilities and skill levels. This is the best time to learn how to be physically and mentally challenged, learn how to overcome tough situations and, most importantly, have fun!
Delaying specializing in one sport until late in adolescence provides other benefits, including:
- Learning from different coaches as they change seasons and sports
- Growing the athlete’s ability to "read the game," understanding player movement, and offensive/defensive schemes
How Can I Help My Child Develop As An Athlete?
There are several keys to helping your child develop as an athlete:
Building strength and athletic capacity
Improving individual limitations in physical fitness can help set up the athlete to achieve long-term athletic development and success. Participating in a variety of sports and athletic activities helps your child improve the body's ability to control movement and his or her athletic capacity.
Improved body control and awareness can greatly reduce the risk of sports injury and can also improve an athlete's confidence.
Setting age-appropriate athletic goals
Inappropriate and unrealistic demands and expectations can overload an athlete, physically and mentally.
According to the National Athletic Trainers Associations Youth Sport Specialization Safety Recommendations, the total training hours per week should be less than the athlete's age. So, a 12 year old should have less than 12 hours of training a week. Aim for at least two days of rest per week of organized training and competition.
This can also create a fear of failure, depression, anxiety and even eating disorders. Setting realistic and obtainable goals can have a more positive effect and increase the likelihood of achieving athletic goals.
How Can My Coach Support My Child's Overall Athletic Development?
Coaches of youth athletes play a pivotal role in developing a framework to provide opportunities for sport specific skill development, athletic performance, promote lifelong participation, shape personal development and build character.
Find a coach or organization that promotes continuing education, self-development and improving coaching abilities.
By Kevin Devine, CSCS
Athletic Development Coordinator, Franciscan Health Sports Medicine Crown Point