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Should young kids specialize in a single sport?

I’ve heard the pros and cons (mostly cons) about kids specializing in sports at a young age. I’m wondering what thoughts some of you have about this topic. Do you think kids should focus on one sport at a young age? If not, at what age should they focus on a single sport?

I have been coaching and or administrating youth sports (baseball and basketball) for 2 decades. I rarely run into other people who have the depth of real time experience that i have as far as ‘Specialization’ or travel sports.
i do have a horse in the specialization race. I run a fairly big AAU basketball program in the city. I also ran a little league and coached multiple ‘Recreational” teams. I have seen both sides but more to the Specialization side.
Here are my only conclusions from it all.( My conclusions are for the below average to well above average student athlete.. If you have a 7 footer or your child is running a 4.2 40 ignore this. You should be seeking out National or regional specialization teams. The other exceptions are track and field or Football, they need bodies. All others.. This is about your child. )
if you want your son or daughter to play one of the big skill sports in High School and actually play at the Varsity level they will probably have to play some form of travel or specialization from 6th grade on.
Too many other student athletes are prepared and tryouts for most teams are only a day or two.. You must look like you have been there before. Most High School teams are NOT developmental skills wise for the individual. You must have a baseline.
The exception is a noticeably gifted athlete who any coach looks at and says.” I can teach that kid anything”
For those of us who are older think in terms of Tennis is the 70s and 80s.. That was the first school sport to become specialized. If you didnt play tennis at the local club taking lessons you were not walking onto a suburban or private school tennis team and playing.
This is reality in youth sports now at the High School level . The Athletic Directors wont tell you this, They have a horse in diversification race. The coaches who pick the teams are the ones who count here. They will always take the most skilled or the most athletic.
I am not saying it is right or it is wrong. I am saying what it is .

Comment by able1420 on August 12, 2015

I have coached recreational and travel youth sports for over a decade. I am also a parent of four kids. Two have specialized and two have not. I cannot say that specializing is, by definition, good or bad. The difficulty I see is that parents sometimes make this decision without the children’s input. I have coached travel teams that had recreational players with “travel parents” and concluded that a parent cannot create the passion for a game that is required for a child to pursue specializing. All of my children were encouraged to try hard and presented with options for a more focused environment. Ultimately we allowed the kids to decide. Even my children who have specialized also played other sports recreationally.
The real danger is over-specializing by filling the child’s entire schedule with participation in 2 leagues, private lessons, and conditioning trainers. If you are doing that, be sure to leave some time for therapy sessions in the kid’s schedule–and yours.
Bryan Rozencwaig

Comment by CoachBryan on April 4, 2013

That’s all well and good for Bill Walsh to have thought specializing,when you got to college, was optimal, but how many players did he, or any coach, currently – scout, draft, or develop; who happened to start ‘specializing’ in football, let alone, any other sport, in college? NONE, most likely, because no player would have had the requisite skills, to even be noticed, let alone participate. Specializing in a sport, or any activity, especially when you demonstrate skill and love of the activity – should be encouraged…I wonder if there is an undercurrent that specializing means – YOU HAVE TO BE SUPERIOR? I think it is a process..Starting in college,might not be the right time or place….I think it might be more dangerous to have kids participate in multiple sports and activities…Baseball, for instance, is made up of some highly complex moves – especially pitching, and hitting. It takes practice, dedication, repetitions, good coaching, and SPECIALIZATION, to develop and maintain the skills. Life, itself, is a grind….We can’t take days off…We SPECIALIZE in getting through the day…It takes practice, dedication, and perseverence…You can’t wait until college to grow-up..All the work was put into it, prior – hopefully!My players are accustomed to having “well-rounded” athletic lives; baseball is their PASSION, not their specialization – life offers that…The key is staying out of their way, when they do some things…Like basketball in the park, pick-up hockey,their agility & conditioning, or just having a catch….That’s versatility, and it has no helicoptor/over-the-shoulder/parental oversight…

Rob Arato – Brooklyn Braves Baseball

Comment by brooklynbraves on March 21, 2013

I’ve been doing a lot of research and writing about different issues that crop up for sports parents these days. Specialization is one that keeps popping up. It’s a topic that we could discuss for hours. But in lieu of droning on…

What I noticed as I interviewed doctors, coaches, parents, pro athletes, and parenting experts is that most urge parents to steer clear of early specialization.

I’ve co-founded an organization called Whole Child Sports, which attempts to raise awareness of the importance of coaching the “whole child” and not just the athlete. My partners Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, and Scott Lancaster, former head of youth development at the National Football League, and I have put together a book titled Beyond Winning, Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment (Lyons Press, August 2013).

In it we’ve put together the Ten Tenets of A Balanced Whole Child (Youth) Sports Experience.

Here’s #2. Play different sports during different seasons. Avoid specialization at an early age, or at any age, for that matter; it is problematic both physically and mentally. Kids need a variety of athletic experiences to develop better motor skills and limit burnout. Playing different sports also helps prevent wear-and-tear injuries (seen surprisingly frequently nowadays in children as young as nine or ten) and, most importantly, keeps them passionate about playing well into adolescence and beyond. Forcing kids to develop one sport at the expense of others can turn training into a grind and playing into a perpetual performance review, rather than what it should be: fun and invigorating.

But perhaps Hall of Fame NFL vootball coach Bill Walsh said it best. When asked when kids should specialize in youth sports by Whole Child Sports co-founder Scott Lancaster, on Sirius/XM radio Walsh replied: “In college.”

–Luis Fernando Llosa

Comment by luisllosa on March 14, 2013

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