It is common practice for me to routinely surf the internet for articles regarding sports and youth sports issues. The title of this blog certainly supports that activity, and diligence in this provides much food for thought as I contemplate what important issues to address or expand on.
In May of 2008, I came across two articles on two different websites that discuss their viewpoint on sports specialization, a topic I most assuredly have an interest in. Even though two years old, they contain very pertinent, important, and timely information relative to my current 3-part piece, Specialization in Youth Sports Good or Bad?
The first, Should my child specialize? by Juliet Cassell, discusses several of the same concerns and/or risks I raise in my commentary above. Ms. Cassell's article has good references and support for the points listed and is definitely worth the read.
I might further suggest that readers visit the website this article came from The Educated Sports Parent. Created by Ms. Cassell herself, it certainly seems to dovetail much of what my blog at ChicagoNow tries to promote. (Those interested in reading about Ms. Cassell's purpose can click on this link, About Us.)
The second article was found on a website called ParentMap. This article, titled Should your child play just one sport? by Teresa Wippel, also echoes many of the same concerns brought out by Ms. Cassell and details what most sports professionals list as issues when specializing in sports at too young of an age.
As I ponder the assertions in both articles, along with my own ideas (and information provided in my article on the same subject), I can't help but point out the importance of keeping in mind how this issue is not a one or the other scenario, with no middle ground.
What most are emphasizing is that specialization is occurring at younger and younger ages, too young, and bringing with it side effects that are not good, something I certainly agree with. However, it should not be misinterpreted that anyone is saying specialization at any and all ages is bad.
I myself started competitive specialization (seriously training) in a sport as a junior in high school, toward the end of my junior year to be more accurate. I did compete on only one high school athletic team (but did other sports recreationally during the off season), with little focus on that sport my freshman through junior year.
Why did I decide to do this?
It was based on objectives and goals I had set for myself and the desire I developed during that time frame, nothing else.
Of course this was in the early seventies.
My own daughters were encouraged and did participate in a variety of sports growing up.
High school graduates of years 2004 and 2007, they did not start specializing in any one sport until sophomore year (2004 graduate) and eighth grade (2007 graduate). As a parent, educator, and coach, I wanted them to stay involved in as many sports as possible until their own goals dictated the opposite.
Much of my reasoning comes from information I point out in my article on this subject, as noted earlier, and the information discussed in the articles referenced for the purpose of this blog post.
My oldest wanted to compete in soccer at the collegiate level on scholarship; that was her goal. Now my youngest, who was only 5'4" tall, eventually developed the desire to compete at the elite level in volleyball. This goal gradually broadened into wanting to continue competing at this level into college, also on scholarship like her sister.
My encouragement, for both girls, came from the idea of just doing the things you need to do to be the best you can be, something that is in their control (and the intrinsic value that comes from this).
Playing at the elite level, and getting a scholarship at that level, is a possible outcome of that but not a certainty. And it is something that is not really within your direct control; it is extrinsic (external).
What happened for me and my daughters is detailed on my website for my forthcoming book Becoming a True Champion under the link The Author, and in the drop down link on this page Raising Athletes.
So, for each of us, it was our own desire and goals that dictated whether, and when, we should specialize in our sports, no one else's. It is simply untrue for anyone to say or state that any of the three of us would have accomplished our goals without specializing in our sport, it would simply have been impossible given the constraints of our situations.
And that is the point (something I vehemently would stress); each individual and individual situation is unique to that person and the environment they are in. To over-generalize that specializing in a sport is either bad or good for everyone in any situation is simply unfair, incorrect, and not necessarily in their best interest. There are just too many variables to dictate one way or the other for everyone and every situation.
The one thing I do believe to be true, something both articles Should my child specialize? and Should your child play just one sport? point out is that too many young athletes are specializing at too young of an age, and certainly before they have decided for themselves what they want out of their own sports experience.
That in itself is important enough to warrant further discussion and seek out more information regarding this issue.