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Youth Sports Specialization: Beware These 4 Dangers!
“My son has been wrestling since he was in middle school. Now he’s in high school and he’s so burned out that he doesn’t even make the team.”
“My neighbor plays club basketball year-round and is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his lower leg…”
“All I’ve ever played is football – now I’m not a starter, so I’m quitting. I think it’s too late to start another sport now…”
Have you ever heard such a statement? I’m sorry to say that I hear them often. With the media screaming about the Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams of the world, many people make the mistake of starting a sport too young – make it too young – for its age and qualification. The lure of college scholarships also convinced these people that majoring in sports was the only way to go.
Before anyone decides to major, they should consider the risks of participating in a particular sport. Here are the 4 dangers of specialization:
1. Overuse Injuries: Putting stress on the body all year or most of the year can lead to overuse injuries. Stress fractures, compartment syndrome, and other conditions are often caused by a lack of variety in athletes’ activities. It’s best to challenge your body in different ways throughout the year to grow as an athlete. Different sports put different stresses on your body, leading to better overall athletic performance. Pediatricians across the country have urged children to participate in a variety of physical activities.
2. Burnout: Playing the same sport day after day, week after week, year after year can cause burnout at a very early age. Children start participating in organized sports at an early age. Someone who has been playing hockey since the age of four can become tired and bored of the sport by the time they reach middle or high school. Non-majors provide breaks and other experiences to keep the main sport interesting, challenging and fun.
3. The Illusion of College Scholarships: As much as parents want their kids to get athletic scholarships, the truth is that a very small percentage of athletes actually achieve that goal. Scholarships in and of themselves should not be the driving force behind choosing to participate in a sport. One should not risk one’s health, happiness and future on a small chance of a “full ride”. Most athletes will benefit from a variety of athletic experiences, even if no scholarship offers are forthcoming. Also, most college recruiters are looking for the best all-around athletes. One of the first questions they often ask is, “What else did you do besides play (insert primary sport here)?” There is evidence to support this. For example, more than 75% of the 2004 football recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers was listed as playing various games in high school. Also, see NFL draft picks each year. Most of these players did not specialize in one sport during their high school career. How many times have you heard the phrase on draft day, “We’re going to develop the best overall athlete available…” Playing more than one sport is the best way to develop that overall athlete.
4. Reaching Your Full Athletic Potential: While focusing on one sport helps you develop the necessary athletic skills, you don’t develop other athletic skills that carry over to your main activity. Speed, balance, mental focus, jumping, turning are all emphasized differently in different sports. Anything you do to become a better athlete will also make you a better (insert sport here) player.
More and more research shows that qualifying early does not ensure athletic success. We hear of a few who flourish from early qualification, but what about the vast majority who don’t “make it big” in their chosen sport? How many athletes do you think have become successful by not qualifying? Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrickson, John Elway and Marion Jones to name a few.
Sports should be promoted from a young age. However, it is best to encourage participation in a variety of sports activities to develop athletic skills that are transferable across all sports. This will reduce the risks mentioned in this article, allow young athletes to reach their full athletic potential and, who knows, maybe get that coveted college scholarship.
Copyright, Tim Kauppinen, 2005
This article is copyrighted 2005 by Tim Kauppinen. All rights reserved.
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