It prompted me to post an old article I wrote. PS- Youth sports
is a mess we may never be able to clean up,
kind of like the economy.
I’m not sure when the phenomenon of early specialization was born.
At some point a parent decided
“why not just fast-track our kids right past Little League and Pop
Warner and right into the Pros”. Parents in all sports felt
they could follow the lead of Earl Woods ( Tiger’s dad)
or Richard Williams ( Venus and Serena’s dad) and
just concentrate on one sport. I love to tell parent groups
that I speak to that for every Tiger Woods
or Venus Williams there are probably 5000 kids who hate
sports and resent their parents for all the pressure.
As a parent, ask yourself this question. Have you ever told
anyone “ I don’t push _(insert your child’s name)____ he/she
really wants to do this?” The latest one to fuel the early
specialization fire is tennis star Maria Sharapova.
The TV folks couldn’t wait to tell us at Wimbledon that she
had been holed up in Fla since age 7.
Check out this quote from LA Lakers Coach Phil Jackson:
“40 million kids play sports, and most of them are between
7 and 12. By the time they are
13 more than 70 percent of them have stopped playing
because it’s not fun anymore. All of a sudden when
kids get into junior high, we feel this need to have them
become professionals, and the coaches
become professionals… The message I’d like to get
out to them is to honor the game. The goal, or the victory
is important, but team sportsmanship, the
athletic endeavor itself is just as important.”
One of the problems is that most team sports are what
are called late specialization sports. This mean that early
concentration/ specialization has actually been shown to
slow development rather than speed it up.
Historically the great players in team sports seem to hone
their competitive instincts and develop their athleticism
in a number of sports and then begin
to specialize in their teens. In addition early specialization
often leads to dysfunctional parent/ child relationships.
The early search for the Holy Grail places undue pressure
on a young athlete who should be learning that sports are
actually fun, not just about winning. Believe it or not,
kids play for fun and, will actually attempt to make the teams
fair and encourage competition when
left to their own devices. Remember when you were a kid
and the teams were uneven. You made trades to create
a competitive game. The thrill was competition, not winning.
For many youth sport parents the idea
of fair teams is an anomaly. Stack the team. Get the best
players. Annihilate the competition. Get a scholarship.
Make money.Lets look at the following examples
Nomar Garciaparra ( Boston Red Sox)- played football,
soccer and baseball in high school. He actually attempted
to play football as a kicker while on a baseball
scholarship at Georgia Tech
Mia Hamm ( All Time Leading scorer in US soccer history)-
multi-sport star in high school
Kristine Lilly ( Leads the World in International Soccer Appearances)-
captained three sports at Wilton, Conn HS.
Brendan Shanhan ( Detroit Red Wings) outstanding
Box Lacrosse player prior to entering the NHL.
Katie King- ( US Women’s Ice Hockey, two time Olympian,
current Boston College Women’s Hockey head Coach)
played both Ice Hockey and Softball at Brown University in
And the list could go on forever. Early specialization
is a phenomenon created by self-interested and financially
motivated adults. It has little basis in fact and, the data
seem to support the opposite. This is just
some parental food for thought. There is no evidence t
o support the theory that early specialization leads to
long-term success. In fact, there is evidence to the
contrary as stated above. If you want your
child to be a great athlete, don’t focus on one sport,
play a different sport each season. The people who
encourage early specialization are all people with a
financial interest in your child playing
one sport year round. Those encouraging early
specialization usuallyrun the leagues, camps and skill
sessions and they fill the parents full
of ideas that have no basis in fact. None of the
players mentioned above left home at 14 to go to prep
school or, just played one sport from
age 6. The definition of insanity is doing the same
thing over and over and expecting the result to change.
Maybe we should just try the way that
worked in the first place?