3 Factors to consider before allowing your tween athlete to specialize in one sport

3 Factors to consider before allowing your tween athlete to specialize in one sport
photo by imagerymajestic for freedigitalimages.net

Between practices, games, conditioning, camps and all else that goes along with playing a sport in middle school or junior high, tweens are finding it increasingly difficult to be multiple sport athletes.

Many adolescents and parents feel a push to specialize in one sport, and those trying to play multiple sports finding it very challenging and fear falling behind in one sport or the other. But parents also want their kids to be well-rounded, and they often enjoy playing multiple sports.

Specialization starts young in many sports, particularly in tennis, gymnastics, swimming, soccer, figure skating, volleyball and dance.

Dr. Bob Weil, sports podiatrist, fellow ChicagoNow blogger at The Sports Doctor and host of radio show of the same title, on healthylife.net, Wednesdays 3-4pm, CST, offered the following advice when making the decision between "one sport or many" for your young athlete.

Follow your child's lead

First and foremost is determining what your child really wants. The desire of the parents and coaches should not be driving this decision.

"My thinking is if the young athlete's interest is truly one sport, and as parents you are willing to allow the inclusion of 'off sport training,' making sure that proper supervision & balanced overall exercise is included, then specializing is ok," said Dr. Weil

"If they absolutely love it, if you don't have problems with their dedication to schedule demands and practice, plus there is no history of injuries, then consider it."

He added that specializing can be quite intense both physically and mentally.

Image of Evan Lysacek at the 2010 Olympics by Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune.

Image of Evan Lysacek at the 2010 Olympics by Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune.

Dr. Weil shared a conversation he had with the mother of Evan Lysacek, gold medal-winning U.S. figure skater. Evan had to wake up at incredibly early hours to get in rink time and his mom knew that she was doing the right thing allowing him to specialize because she never, ever had to wake him up for practice. He couldn't wait to hit the ice. His mom followed Evan's lead, which is what Dr. Weil advises all parents do.

Scholarship considerations

Dr. Weil also cautioned against believing the scholarship talk that some coaches give parents.

"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."

According to MoneyWatch, only 2 percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities. For those lucky few, the average award is less than $11,000.

Getting a scholarship is a long shot. Both parents and kids need to remember that, no matter what others say.

Staying safe and healthy

Parents and athletes need to be aware of the risk of injury. "Physically, with young, growing bodies, playing the same sport with the same movements, same muscles being used, same stress to the same areas, is challenging. Overuse injuries are a problem," Dr. Weil explained.

Balance exercises and foot and ankle strengthening are a must, regardless of the sport, he added.

Downtime is important for any adolescent athlete, be it playing one sport or many. "Even serious one-sport kids require time off and proper recovery—more is not always better," Dr. Weil advised.

Other considerations

There are, of course, many other factors to consider, including but not limited to finances, family obligations, balancing academics and extracurricular activities and how families, colleges and others feel about the ideal of being well-rounded. There is a lot that goes into the decision to specialize.

If you have faced this decision for yourself or your kids, which factors had the most weight?

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