The pressure for children and adolescence to specialize in a sport at a young age is rising. There are benefits and risks associated with pressuring children into sports specialization. Early sports specialization can lead to increased self-esteem, self-discipline, and stronger peer relationships (Nyland, 2014). These are a few of the benefits of early sport specialization. The risks of specializing in a sport at a young age tend to out way the benefits.
Early sport specialization typically demands a year-round training, choosing a single main sport, and quitting all other sports to focus on the main sport (Myer et al. Part I, 2015). These three demands do not allow for diversity among sports. If a child specializes early in life they miss out on other opportunities that they may have been able to take. The lack of diversity in a child’s sport can lead to overuse injuries. Sports such as baseball, gymnastics, ice hockey, and swimming are sports that if specialized in at a young age can lead to overuse injuries (Feeley, Agel, & LaPrade, 2015). The repetitive motions of these sports cause the same muscles to be used cyclically. When the same muscles are used in a cyclic motion it causes them to become weak and tired. Children that have more diversity in their sport choices work more muscles which leads to less overuse injuries.
Diversity in children sports can aid children in developing physical, psychological, and social aspects of sports (Myer et al. Part II, 2015). When children partake in different sports it works on different skills. This diversity of skills can actually be more beneficial in helping children reach an elite level of play (Nyland, 2014). Unconstructed free play is when children are not required to perform a specific sport and can play on their own. Children that specialize at a young age are required to go to organized practices that take up a majority of their time, which does not allow time for unconstructed free play (Myer et al. Part II, 2015). Unconstructed free play promotes age-appropriate sport skills in children.
Myer et al. (2015) has recommendations on how to help children reach their full potential. The recommendations are as follows:
- Youth should be given opportunities for free, unstructured play to improve motor skill development, and parents and educators should encourage child self-regulation to help limit the risk of overuse injuries.
- Parents and educators should help provide opportunities for free, unstructured play to improve motor skill development during the growing years, which can reduce injury risk during adolescence.
- Youth should be encouraged to participate in a variety of sports during their growing years to influence the development of diverse motor skills and identify a sport, or sports, that the child enjoys.
- Children who do participate in more hours of sport over week than their age, and for more than 16 hours per week in intense training, and who are specialized in sport activities should be closely monitored for indicators of burnout, overuse injury, or potential decrements in performance due to overtraining.
- All youth (including inactive youth) can benefit from periodized strength and conditioning to help them prepare for the demands of competitive sport participation.
Feeley, B. T., Agel, J., & LaPrade, R. F. (2015). When Is It Too Early for Single Sport Specialization?. The American journal of sports medicine, 0363546515576899.
Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., Difiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., & Micheli, L. J. (2015). Sport Specialization, Part I Does Early Sports Specialization Increase Negative Outcomes and Reduce the Opportunity for Success in Young Athletes?. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 1941738115598747
Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., DiFiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., & Micheli, L. J. (2015). Sports Specialization, Part II Alternative Solutions to Early Sport Specialization in Youth Athletes. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 1941738115614811.
Nyland, J. (2014). Coming to terms with early sports specialization and athletic injuries. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 44(6), 389-390.