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. The Tipping Point is certainly not first grade. I think around 12-13 two sports makes sense even for a gifted kid. The problem you run into is that small pyramids get built on small bases. Think 2-3 sports at least up to age 12.

  2. I recall a stat from MIAA( Mass high school governing body ) that said only 5% of kids that play a particular sport in high school go on to play that sport in college. I was kind of surprised it was so small.

    I imagine the truly gifted athletes, as in the scholarship level athletes these coaches recruit, can get away with playing a variety of sports just because they’re freakishly talented. But there may be some that need the extra specific work, not playing, but more specific training to get there.

    I’m not disagreeing. We know that parents are caught up in the early specialization and enlightened trainers are advocating not specializing. What’s the solution? Where might we find the “tipping point” in this battle?

  3. I think in soccer you will see what we have seen in hockey. Fewer highly skilled players. Much like the hockey player who developed on the pond, the creative soccer player was probably developed in a street or on a field away from coaching. The emphasis on general preparation may in some regards make up for this but, free play and multi-sport is still key.

  4. Hi Mike!

    Great information! One question though: The biggest problem with early specialization is regards to the fact that they won’t develop a proper movement pattern, is that correct?

    Since I am involved in soccer and have been following some of the bigger academy’s in our country, they have their kids specializing in soccer at the age of 10-12 years old. I know this is not unique to our country, I know it happens all over the world, especially in the game of soccer.

    Is it just plain and simple the soccer community that is behind? I mean, the biggest clubs in the world are following this concept in their academy’s. Would just like to hear your input and thoughts on this!

    I know the bigger academy’s are doing a lot of movement based training and focusing a lot on developing the players physical skills. Can this make up to the problem with only playing one sport all year around?


  5. Well said. Hopefully parents will one day start looking at the big picture and do what’s best for their young athletes; play multiple sports and stay away from sport specialization. Let them develop a solid foundation in athletics first through muilti-lateral development. This concept was confirmed in the study conducted by Harre way back in 1982. Keep up the great work Mike.

  6. Man Steve Nash is a great example of what to do, he gets it! Mike you think it’s more physical literacy than sport? The fundamental sport skills / movement skills catch, run, throw, skip, walk, push, kick, jump, pull, shuffle,etc.. on ground in water on ice snow etc.. how bout riding bikes, skateboards, surf, handball skiing, stick ball, kick ball, wiffle ball, hiking..free play, more sports means more adult coaches. Away from sports the issues runs much deeper with kids that lack the motor skills and physical confidence as we see these adults later in life everyday in our gyms. Thanks Mike

  7. David Green Says:


  8. Keep pushing the truth Mike! I keep telling parents and athletes that my “sport specific training”(which I feel that SS is crap) is fixing the overuse injuries caused by specializing in one sport! We need the sport coaches to keep talking about what they recruite-athletes!
    Keep up the great content!
    Scott Umberger

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