Why has it become a growing fad that athletes and their parents feel like they should have to specialize in a particular sport? Their thinking is if they specialize in a particular sport this will make them more marketable in their sport and allow them a better chance of obtaining a scholarship to help fund their education. Coaches at all levels are looking for athletes, not players that may burnout or be susceptible to injury because of overuse.
Springfield Cardinals manager Mike Shildt was a scout before going into minor league coaching and had the following observation: (Kessinger, 2014)
“Sports teaches you a lot of life lessons, and different sports teach you different skill sets, different movements, different competition thoughts,” Shildt said. “At some point, you’ve got to get to a baseball setting, to get the reps, but there may be more of a ceiling for a guy that was in another sport, based on the fact you appreciate his athleticism. (Kessinger, 2014)
Several of today’s great athletes were multi-sport athletes growing up. LeBron James was a very talented football wide receiver in high school. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, signed a professional baseball contract with the Texas Rangers. Once they moved on to college or went straight to the NBA, they began to specialize in their sport of choice. These athletes were able to compete in several different sports growing up and it allowed them to be versatile and show their athleticism. Multi-sport life helps athletes manage their time which is a crucial skill in life. Sports become like a full-time job and everything else must be kept up to maintain the day to day rigors of life.
“College coaches love the multi-sports athletes,” said Justis, whose daughters Brianna and Bridget played two sports at Ozark before moving on to college volleyball at Lindenwood and Drury, respectively. “I’ve talked to some of the top coaches in the country, and they love the multi-sport athletes because they know the kids are having to work on their responsibility and time management because they’re doing more than just one sport during the school year.” (Kessinger, 2014)
If athletes are putting all their eggs in one basket it puts an extra amount of mental stress on them to do well so they can garner that scholarship. They may become very good at their craft and achieve an elite status if they choose to specialize, but if they waited until later in their adolescence to focus on one sport they may succeed in other sports along the way. Playing multiple sports during the adolescent years will allow an athlete to possibly see that they are better at a different sport than what they had thought in the beginning of their athletic career.
So the bottom line is that young athletes should be advised against specializing in one sport. They should participate in as many sports as possible early in their adolescence and progress toward focusing on one particular sport as they reach their full potential. Specializing in one could lead to burnout or overuse injuries and dampen their efforts at earning the scholarship they so coveted.
Kessinger, J. (July 26, 2014). Jeff Kessinger: Specialization, or Play More Sports? Retrieved from: http://www.usatodayhss.com/2014/specialization-or-play-more-sports
Dr. Bret Simmermacher is the Chair of Sports Coaching and a faculty member at the United States Sports Academy.
Burnout and overuse injuries generally happen when novice coaches attempt to train young players in any sport. Improve the coach and I argue that burnout and injuries become limited. Through appropriate activity selection and periodization between time on and time off, players thrive on becoming better at a sport. How do you define sport specialization? Must it just be organized or if you play on a soccer team full time, and then play basketball in PE class are you a multi-sport athlete. This definition would be extremely helpful as to creating a base for continuing this discussion.