For me, it is an interesting question, this idea of whether proper training would help decrease the rate and risk of injury even though one is specializing in a sport.
One of the main reasons (keeping the injury piece in mind) it is suggested that young athletes engage in a variety of sports and activities is that it encourages conditioning of the body as a whole since each sport or activity requires different types of movement, and thus different muscles. So, it begs us to ask the question whether these different movement patterns can be accomplished from a different angle; with proper, well-thought-out training.
Having a background in physical education, and having experienced sports as an athlete (high school through college), coach (17 years), and parent (two female athletes from club through high school and college sports), I have always believed that too many do not understand the complexities of proper training--training as was explained in Part I.
Whether it be lack of knowledge, lack of structure, lack of proper priorities, and/or simply the inability to combine effective and efficient ways of training so as to save time, I have seen improper training occur at all levels.
There is more to coaching and training athletes than simply throwing out a ball and creating a couple drills to use in practice, even at the younger ages. It is a well-thought-out developmental process. One that takes considerable amounts of time, especially the training and prevention of injury part.
So, again, is it simply the fact that many are specializing in sports at too young of an age that is the only issue or is there more to it?
Dr. Robert Weil (host of the radio show The Sports Doctor) recently published a piece in our Trib Local, titled Young athletes specialize in one sport or many - good question, that discusses the very issue we are talking about here. In his article he states that "it's not unusual to see kids younger than 13 who are already putting all their efforts into one sport" and that "the multiple-sport athlete is far less common today than years ago."
If you are anywhere near my age bracket, 50's, were involved in sports, and have kids playing sports, you know this to be true.
Dr. Weil goes on to highlight how the thinking goes that if one plays multiple sports, they will ultimately fall behind the others who are specializing--certainly a debatable issue depending on the sport. However, Dr. Weil goes on to do something unique in his piece, something I don't see very often, and something that commands a good deal of respect. He doesn't discuss sports specialization from a position of absoluteness, meaning always bad or always good, even mentioning sports where specialization traditionally begins at a very early age; instead, he conveys alternatives to address the injury issue that sports specialization brings to the table.
"It is important to include off-sport conditioning that will help develop all areas of the athlete's body to counteract repetitive motion problems. Concentrate on working "the opposites," or areas and muscles that counteract repetitive motion areas. Athletic trainers, physical therapists and coaches can help develop those strategies.
"Off-sport conditioning is no less important to the multiple sport athlete. Balance exercises and foot and ankle strengthening are a must, regardless of the sport."
Dr. Weil goes on to talk about other issues relative to sports specialization as well, including the inappropriate outside pressures others place on athletes to specialize early.
"My thinking is if the kid's interest is really that one sport, then it's OK to specialize. But don't let the coach convince you that that's the only way to become really good and possibly get that scholarship, etc. It isn't. Many of our best college and pro athletes played multiple sports ask kids.
"Either way, make sure your young athlete enjoys his or her sport and is not being physically or mentally burned out because of the constant demand. Even serious one-sport kids require time off and proper recovery--more is not always better."
Personally, I like Dr. Weil's take on all of this. He truly does have the best interest of the athlete at heart as he expresses some very sound ideology in trying to curb the issues early sports specialization seems to have created. I suppose there is good reason why the call him The Sports Doctor!!!