Is it Wise for Kids to Specialize in One Sport?
An underlying belief of some parents today is that the key to their child achieving an athletic scholarship or even playing professional sports someday, is to have them specialize in one sport and one sport only. Sports specialization is defined as training intensely for one sport all year round. Often times parents believe the earlier their child begins to focus on one activity, the better their chances are to excel in that activity.
Is this really the case? There is absolutely a positive correlation between the number of hours spent training in a specialized area and achieving success, but research is showing there are also risks involved with early sports specialization.
The biggest risk associated with early sports specialization is injury.
In a study of 1200 youth athletes, Dr Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70% to 93% more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports!
When a child plays one sport all year round, they never give their body a break. If the body does not have time to heal after intense training sessions, the small micro-traumas will add up leading to over-use injuries. Something else to consider, is while the same muscle groups are trained year round focusing on one specific activity, other important muscles and basic movements that are necessary to be an elite athlete never have the chance to develop.
Research shows that children who play more than one sport develop varying motor patterns and skills that later will be more beneficial for success in their activity of choice.
The last thing to consider when pushing your child toward a specific sport is the psychological stress. Children who play one sport get burnt out sooner and are more likely to quit than those encouraged to play multiple sports throughout their childhood.
While the idea behind early specialization seems logical, be cautious of these risks when encouraging your little athlete to participate in sports specific training.