Importance of avoiding specialization in sports
File photo/ Camrose Canadian It is best to have kids play multiple sports growing up so that they develop different skills and muscles.
With kids going back to school and most organized sports starting up again, I think it’s important to think about the impact that sport specialization can have.
At times, a large amount of pressure can be put on our youth to perform at high levels in one specific sport. Because we live in Canada, that sport is typically hockey, but I’ve also heard of such pressure in baseball, basketball and volleyball.
On the surface, asking someone to focus on one sport only to become better at that sport sounds reasonable. You would get more experience in drills that are designed to hone the skills needed in that sport and more time in practice scenarios that will increase performance in the games. In the case of doing that with children, sport specialization can be detrimental to their overall development. In the long run, sport specialization can actually end up having negative effects in terms of skill growth and development in that sport.
In terms of growth and development, we don’t reach our maximum physical potential until our mid to late 20’s. This means that between the ages of 10 and 18, when the most pressure to learn skills and perform is placed on kids, their bodies are still developing. It also means that all those great athletes we see getting drafted into the NHL, NFL and NBA still have years to go before they meet their athletic potentials. However, because these athletes are moving on to the grandest stage their sports have to offer, we often just assume that they’re already at their maximum abilities.
In the teenage years, when developmental change is at its highest rate, diversification should also be at its highest. The great thing about getting into athletic diversification in the teen years is how readily available these experiences are. If you do your research into community associations, you’ll find that there are activities and leagues that run all year round. You can go from hockey and volleyball in the fall to basketball and swimming through winter. In the spring, there’s football and badminton until baseball and soccer start up for the summer. Through all those sports a child will experience different kinds of hand-eye coordination and utilize most major muscle groups to move many different ways. As an example, Steve Nash was a phenomenal basketball player, winning a couple MVP awards. But those that follow his career also know that he is pretty good on a soccer pitch as well.
Not only do kids develop a better background of physical ability, but having all of these different experiences to draw from will also improve their mental potential as well. All of those different sports will encourage kids to think in different ways, communicate differently and develop new problem-solving strategies. Disregarding the obvious differences in the sports themselves, setting up for a one-timer in hockey requires wildly different movements and attention to detail than turning a double play in baseball.
When kids start specializing at a young age, they miss the opportunity to maximize their potential when they’re older. This can mean both physical and mental repercussions. Their self-worth can be tied to their performance or how successful they are at living up to expectations placed on them. In their stage of physical development, only repeating the same movements from a young age can actually cause long-term harm in terms of faulty movement patterns, imbalanced musculature and compromised joints.
The other factor to include in all of this is the time for rest and recovery. This is especially harmful when playing contact sports like hockey or football. Without a solid three to four months of time away from the rigours of a sport between seasons, injuries are more likely to occur and less likely to heal.
So, before we encourage our kids to take a road that only has one exit, take a look at the opportunities and experiences that can be gained from taking on multiple different avenues. Look at the ranks of professional athletes that are great at their own sport but also have the ability to do well in other fields.The abilities and potentials of our youth are only limited to the experiences that they are exposed to.
Warren is an ACE Certified Fitness Trainer working out of a studio in downtown Camrose. He’s had experience with personal fitness and coaching for almost 10 years.