So Much for Early Specialization

I am a big Tiger Woods fan. Not a big golf fan but, a fan of the man who changed how everyone trains for the game of golf. However, I hate the idea that everyone believes putting a club in little Tigers hands at age three was the key. People love to point this fact out as they torture their own children with early specialization. 

Guess what? Two weeks ago  Tiger lost to an athlete who started golfing at 19. He was actually working at a driving range in South Korea. It didn’t matter that he didn’t start at age 3 or 4 or 5. Something else mattered, probably talent. Interestingly enough the Long Term Development Model currently becoming so popular in so many sports shows clearly that early specialization is actually a detriment to long term development. The folks at TPI ( the go to guys in golf fitness) are currently using a model that discourages the concept of giving clubs to three year olds. The first stage of development is actually supposed to be FUN. 

Just want to take a moment to point out that you don’t have to start in the crib to be good at something. I always tell the parents I deal with that there may be thousands of kids who hate their parents for every Tiger Woods or Maria Sharapova.

16 Responses to “So Much for Early Specialization”

  1. Yah what about the William sisters, Wayne Gretzky, Barry Zito, Kobe.. if I am reading this correct the key is in the guardian, if they have a keen eye and sense of what it takes with some good luck, good coaching teaching and timing these things workout, it is a very special recipe or perfect storm thanks Mike.

  2. Steven Bubel Says:

    In regards to Steven Bubel’s comments:
    Thanks for offering up a difference of opinion.

    1. First lets leave Tiger out of the equation. He is one of a handful of golfers that come along very rarely. He can only be compared to Vardon, Jones, Snead and Nicklaus. Furthermore, growing up he was a multi sport athlete. I agree with Coach Boyle on this point but I am thinking strong safety instead of linebacker.

    2. Titleist Performance Institute polled their PGA golfers and the majority were multi sport athletes as kids. This would indicate that to be on tour well rounded athletes are preferred.

    3. In regards to luck every golfer will tell you that luck is certainly part of the equation for EVERYONE and every victory. I agree that Yang got a bit lucky that Tiger’s putting was not quite up to par. He was also lucky that one of his approach shots on a later hole did not roll into the hazard. Luck did not enter into his chip in for eagle on 16. That took practice and lots of it.
    Make no mistake that his being on the tour had very little to do with luck.

    4. An aside: Late bloomers have just as much potential to become elite level athletes as the early bloomers. Just look to Padraig Harrington as an excellent example. They just need to be handled differently than their early bloomer peers. Early specialization of late bloomers would be an absolute disaster.

    5. I agree there are indeed sports that require early specialization for dominance: Gymnastics, figure skating and swimming come to mind.

    6. I feel that 99% of amateur golfers, regardless of handicap, don’t have an inkling about what it takes to become a PGA professional. This creates an opening for any well meaning or emotionally disturbed “golf” parent to set into motion a mechanism of misplaced expectations and the stunting of the development of a true love for sport and activity on the part of their children.
    I suspect this is an issue with other youth sports as well.

    Its okay for kids to dream of being Tiger, it’s not okay for parents to impose that dream on their kids.


  3. mboyle1959 Says:

    Nate- In USA Hockey’s own words “we are developing lots of average players and few elite players”. They know this system doesn’t work and hockey is getting worse.

  4. Nate Baukol Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, there are more hockey schools/academy’s, and hockey specific training programs in my area…. I just shake my head.

  5. mboyle1959 Says:

    Well said Steve. As you know from your BU days the best athletes became the best players. Parents think they can stack the deck and it works backwards in most cases. You can’t build a big pyramid off a small, narrow base.

  6. Believe it or not, Yang was a body builder as a kid..hurt his knee and had to give it up….

  7. Steve Marran Says:

    Well said Mike. Glad to hear someone in a professional training capacity finally come out and say what us cross training, multi-sport athletes have known all along. Kids today (mostly their over-zealous parents and “coaches”) are often forced to choose a single sport and “specialize” way to early (by middle school). In doing so, many important learning and cross-functional skill development opportunities are lost, not to mention the experience of trying different things. What’s wrong with being a three letter athlete in high school, excelling at one or two and participating in others for FUN. This pervasive “my kid is gonna be somebody” mentality is basically ruining all sports. Not everyone is a scholarship athlete, and even fewer will ever turn pro. Kids should be aloud to experiment and try different things. Athletes should enjoy what they do and do it to the best of their ability. That passion alone should take them as far as they are meant to go. With such a positive outlook, everyone wins.

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