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Youth Specialization: Pump the Breaks

Monday, May 16, 2016
Joseph Aratari, CFSC, CPT

During both my time as strength & conditioning coach & youth soccer coach, I’ve crossed paths with many parents and coaches who have their children involved in athletics. In my opinion (and science agrees) involvement in athletics at an early age is probably the most important and influential thing you can do for your child as a parent. Not to get off topic, but the social, cognitive and motor development that takes place in youth athletics provides enough discussion for a college course. To get back to the topic of this post, the problem with youth athletics is when parents and coaches dictate their kid to choose just one sport so they can play just that one sport year round, otherwise known as specialization.

What Does Sport Give Us?

Without getting too deep into material, it is still necessary to some background information about a couple of the many aspects of sports that I find critical in youth development.

Socially speaking, sports allow kids to express themselves to their peers and allow them to meet possible lifelong friends. The majority of kids who continue to play sports growing up develop these close ties with peers that they will establish throughout high school and later in life. In addition, it allows kids to work in team settings, solve problems and overcome barriers….All things that happen in every stage of life.

Physically Speaking, there are several domains to dive into that are far beyond the scope of this post. Most importantly, youth athletics, allow kids to develop fundamental motor skills. Research shows there are several fundamental motor skills ranging from kicking, throwing, turning, twisting and several more. It is clear to note that sports and practice obviously reinforces and teaches these skills, some sports more than some. For example, kicking patterns are obviously more prevalent in soccer than in baseball, which will have more throwing patterns. None the less, it is still important that our youth is exposed to all of these motor skills.

What Specialization Will Not Give Your Kids

If a child is only exposed to one sport they will miss out on several possible friends and experiences from other sports. They’re kids; they need a childhood filled with positive and fun memories. In addition, from an athletic standpoint your child will not fully develop into a complete athlete because they will be missing out on other movement patterns.

In my case, I played basketball, football, soccer and ran track and wrestled for a year all before 8th grade. When my one season was over, a new sport started. In my case it wasn’t until high school, which I (not my parents) decided to focus on soccer only, so that I could play in college. As a kid I excelled at soccer the most but I believe if my parents made me play soccer year round at the age of 7, I would have gotten sick of it, and not have been the complete athlete as I am due to other sports.

What The Experts Are Saying
Michael Boyle Youth Sports
In this link, highly respected strength & conditioning coach Michael Boyle briefly discusses how our youth shouldn’t be forced to play just one sport.

In the fitness field Periodization refers to cycling between workouts, reps, sets etc…to push past plateaus. In athletics, this should refer to literally hanging up one pair of cleats and picking up the next.

In conclusion, we need to look at the sole purpose of youth sports…..FOR KID TO BE KIDS AND HAVE FUN! Obviously, sports can increase self-confidence, social skills, motor skills, athleticism and so forth but kids don’t know about these things, they play sports because sports are fun! It should not be up to the parent to decide what sport their child will or will not play, and how long (year wise) they will play that sport. Parents of kids who are just starting in athletics should play a minimum of 2 sports (if not more) year round. As the child grows up they will naturally flow to the sports in which they like and excel at, and drop the sports in which they do not enjoy, but this has to be their decision! In many cases, HS athletes play multiple sports and still go on to play a college sport. Just think…there have been thousands of college/professional athletes who played two sports in college and had to make the decision of what sport they wished to pursue!

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