Early Specialization Part 3

I was looking at Stack Magazine the other day and came across these gems. Stack interviewed three of the most successful coaches in the country UVA’s Men’s Lacrosse Coach, Dom Starsia, USC’s Pete Carroll and Florida State Track Coach Bob Branum on the subject of early specialization. All three advocated playing multiple sports or doing multiple events.

Starsia said ” for young guys,- especially those seventh, eight, ninth and tenth graders- it’s a little too early to decide that you are going to a football player or, that you are going to be a full time lacrosse player.”

” Probably 95% of the time our kids ( at UVA) are multi- sport athletes. It’s a bit strange to me if somebody is not playing other sports in high school.”

Carroll echoes the same sentiments. “The first question I ask about a kid is what other sports does he play?… I really, really, don’t favor kids having to specialize in one sport.”

Even in track Braman says “versatility becomes more important when on the men’s side I’m looking at twelve scholarships and I’m trying to divide them up”

I know I keep harping on the same subject but, parents need to know that good coaches don’t favor early specialization. If your son or daughter has a coach that is trying to convince them to play one sport prior to high school , take a look and see how that coach earns their money. I’ll bet 90% of the time it’s from that sport.

Bottom line, the best coaches in the country advocate playing multiple sports until at least high school.


15 Responses to “Early Specialization Part 3”

  1. mboyle1959 Says:

    I think gymnastics is great for every child but, not as a competitive sport. Gymnastics is extremely tough on the body. I think gymnasts are unique in the sense that small size naturally draws people into the sport. Many male gymnasts would struggle in the team sport setting due to size. However, I just don’t think the body stresses of high level gymnastics is worth it long term. Truth is, this probably also applies to football

  2. How do you feel this applies to male and female gymnasts that are most likely never going to make the national team or the elite level but may still have solid college gymnastics prospects? At the preschool and early grade school ages gymnastics is the most foundational activity an person can participate in to develop future athletic potential. Gymnastics at these ages has even be proven by the sheer nature of the movements involved to stimulate the nervous system and the brain itself in a way that enhances short and long term coordination, balance and even cognitive ability resulting increased learning capacity.

    Most college gymnasts that are on scholarship would have been considered one sport athletes from as early on as 8 or 10 years of age.

    Gymnastics is very different from just about every other sport in that it incorporates allot of sprinting, allot of whole body flexibility, allot of powerful countering movements (forward and opposite backward or upward/downward, abducting/adducting movements) in every joint in every direction, body suspended slow and fast movements, jumping, leaping, kicking forwards, backwards and sideways, upper body only supported movements in all directions, body/core stabilizing and balance skills. Although gymnastics does not incorporate in its performance, ball handling skills like basketball or throwing actions like football and large truck rotations like you get in baseball or golf but most gymnastics programs often use similar actives as part of the over all training.

  3. mboyle1959 Says:

    Crash- thanks. Well written.

  4. This is very prevalent in hockey as many believe the only way to get better in hockey is to have the skates on. I look at the next generation of players, those born in from about 1987 through today, as Crosby’s history has been so well documented as many parents see him as a player manufactured through money spent on skating, shooting and hockey specific work. I am not saying this is is true in respects to his development, but many parents, especially those in the financial situation to be able to hire personal hockey skill and skating coaches believe they can manufacture the “next Crosby”. This has also been said to have followed the Gretzky generation, but with the advent of internet technology, this craze is greater now than ever.

    Now most players as young as 10 play hockey 12 months of the year, going from their regular season, to spring hockey to summer hockey. Unfortunately this shortens their athletic preparation curve at a young age, and directs a very specific spiral.

    In Canada where hockey is our most popular sport, especially with males, young players who may have been the best athletes in their peer group early on, no longer are by the time they reach late teens. A typical 16 year old hockey player is a below average sprinter and has very hockey specific muscle imbalances. Tight glutes, and external hip rotators from skating, as well as anterior muscle shortening through the upper body (mid back weakness, and tight pecs) are too common with hockey players.

    Simple education seems to work, expalining how different sports can develop traits that are succesful to hockey, specifiaclly the following;

    Basketball teaches great foot work, badminton exceptional small movement agility (see: Defenceman Duncan Keith in the deffensive zone), or how in soccer players use their bodies (not their arms) to seperate the ball from opposing players (in hockey necessary in protecting the puck along the boards) and so on… Because hockey is unlike many running sports (football, basketball, track, soccer etc.. all have similarity of being on foot) it can be mistaken that it is necessary to train “specifically” on skates. Where it is common to have elite athletes succeed in multiple sports such as baseball, football and basketball, for athletes in hockey they have commonality to a point with only figure skating, and speed skating. Completely different sport societies!

    I agree that the idea of sport specific training is incorrect, possibly a “sales slang” term to sell the idea of the athlete getting more success for their sport. Even with players at the NHL level I find focusing on developing athleticism makes a huge impact. I like the idea of developing athleticism first, hockey after.

  5. Yikes, that’s a BU/ BC level error.

  6. Great points.

    Some folk further south would be quick to note that Bob Braman is the coach at Florida STATE University.

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