Sports specialization in youth sports is a hot topic. I came across an article in USA Today’s High School Sports section highlighting that 30 of the 32 first round picks in the last week’s NFL draft played multiple sports in high school. While reading the article, there were links to two others on the subject. One that presented the data from an NCAA survey of over 21,000 Division I, II, and III athletes. The other presented results from research that indicated that single sport athletes were twice as likely to suffer a lower-body injury than multi-sport athletes. What does the Hustle & Attitude philosophy say about the subject.
What do Hustle & Attitude parents and coaches do with respect to sports specialization?
Recall that the Hustle & Attitude (H&A) philosophy is a youth recreational sports philosophy. This implies that it is not conducive to sports specialization in that the typical specialization scenario – at least in the team sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, etc. – is that the child plays for the local (often school-affiliated) team in season and then for a travel or select team in the off-season. This often makes for a year-round commitment to the sport. [As an aside, my friend’s son – and his family – have worked hard to play school and select soccer and school and select baseball leading up to and all through high school. In a sense, he ‘specialized’ in two sports!] Given the typical scenario, H&A parents and coaches wouldn’t have the choice about specialization because they would be involved in rec leagues.
In light of the benefits of playing multiple sports espoused in the “Few Surprises” article:
- Less potential for burnout
- Accumulating cross sport skills, and
- Reducing overuse injuries – think pitchers in baseball, see John Smoltz’s recommendation – or injuries at all as the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health study indicates)
It would seem playing in rec leagues (or finding corresponding in-season and off-season sports like my friend’s son did) would be recommended. [Although, truth in advertising, my friend’s son did have Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow during his junior year at the age of 17.] The core of the H&A philosophy is to provide positive youth recreational sports experiences for our children. Although many H&A families wouldn’t be faced with the question because their child wouldn’t be playing on a travel or select team, I could see, and indeed have seen, children and families that have had positive experiences while specializing in one sport. [To close these parenthetical asides about my friend and his son; I don’t think he or his parents regret ‘specializing’ in soccer and baseball for the last 6-7 years, even considering the Tommy John surgery.]
So long as the child is having a positive experience, perhaps specialization is OK. However, my personal belief is that playing more sports is beneficial to the development of our kids.
I need to get on a little rant here (anyone remember Dennis Miller’s show on HBO?)…
We need to stop using college and professional football players as our examples of why kids don’t need to specialize in sports in order to succeed (where the general public definition of success is getting a scholarship). The USA Today articles highlight the NFL draft picks and how Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer has repeatedly said he only recruits multi-sport athletes. Well, duh! It should not come as a surprise to anyone that college-level football players played multiple sports in high school. To make it to the collegiate level in football, the young men were obviously very athletic. Unlike the sports I mentioned above in the specialization scenarios, there is no travel or select football. I know, I know, if you’re reading this in Texas or Alabama, you’re thinking “There ain’t no offseason for football, yankee!” First of all, I apologize for the gross generalization of how folks from Texas or Alabama talk. Also, I’m from Arizona and a Red Sox fan, so I’m not a Yankee. Anyway, I agree there are spring drills, and 7-on-7 and passing leagues in the spring/summer. However, think about it; even with the offseason football activities, there is ample time for these high-caliber athletes to play other sports competitively. As the data in the USA Today article indicates, track and field and basketball are high on the list of sports football players also play. And based on my high school experience and watching my boys’ classmates, I would suggest wrestling is also a natural sport that football players gravitate towards as it is very complimentary of the skills, strength, and endurance required in football.
Let’s stop touting football players as our example of why children shouldn’t specialize in a single sport. The general concern is not that football players specialize – again, they kind of can’t – it’s the travel and select baseball, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse leagues that offer our kids the opportunity (challenge?) to play one sport year round. I appreciate the message. I agree that children shouldn’t feel the need to specialize – certainly before high school. However, we need examples of baseball, basketball, and/or soccer players who benefited from playing multiple sports. Stop with the football examples.