Think specializing in one sport will make your son or daughter a better athlete in that sport over the long term? Think again. The logic behind specialization makes sense but the research shows over-use injuries are on the rise for kids who specialize too young.
As a former collegiate track and field athlete coach I have trained all types of athletes and seen many different injuries. I love winning but never at the expense of an athlete’s health. Whenever I did any type of educational training for junior high and high school coaches I communicated that their job was to get the athletes excited about the sport and to make sure the athletes enjoyed what they were doing. In addition I focused on teaching as much injury prevention as I could, I called it prehab so you don’t have to rehab.
There has been a shift from the days of playing several sports as a kid to picking one and specializing. Parents are typically the driving force behind this mentality. If young athletes are going to specialize it should be when they are in their teens and currently kids are picking one sport as early as age 8.
At Girls in the Game we provide a space that is a level playing field. It’s a non-competitive, all-girl environment where we introduce between 20-25 sports a year. We focus on the whole girl by providing education on nutrition, leadership and fitness as well as introducing new sports. So the girls are using their whole body and different muscles as their bodies develop and they grow.
A former coaching colleague of mine Dr. Nirav Pandya is now the Director of Sports Medicine for Young Athletes and has seen firsthand the negative effect of single sporting. “They aren’t playing multiple sports and they aren’t involving themselves in other activities.”
Since football is my favorite sport I’ll use one more statistic to drive this point home; 42 of Urban Meyer’s national championship Buckeyes were multi-sport athletes in comparison to only 5 who specialized in only football. I would say success leaves clues, I can only hope parents use these clues so they can benefit their young athletes.