With so many opportunities out there to compete in club sports all year long at a young age, many kids are specializing in a single sport. Questions continue to arise about whether or not specialization is good for kids, especially as it relates to the age of the student. Parents that have kids involved in sports at a young age will undoubtedly have choices to make regarding how much their kids will focus on a particular sport or whether they will participate in multiple athletic activities.
There are strong beliefs and studies supporting the idea that students who compete in multiple sports develop a more complete athletic skill set, stay healthier over time, and experience less burnout. It’s our opinion that participation in different sports or training is always beneficial, but it’s even more valuable to the younger student and his or her long-term development.
Athletes that specialize too early tend to only develop the movement patterns and skills of a particular activity. However, an athlete that is exposed to different movement patterns and skills at a younger age is likely to develop more as a well-rounded athlete. Many believe those skills and movement patterns learned in other sports can be applied by an athlete later on, making them even better when competing later on.
Some movements (on the same playing surface) and skills repeated over and over could lead to overuse injuries. While there are many possibilities of overuse injuries, the most common example in youth sports comes with boys in baseball as it relates to elbow injuries. Parents should spend some time talking with others and looking at research when considering, “How much is too much?”
At Faith Lutheran, we have seen a fair share of students that only specialize and experience burn out. While it does happen during high school, most often we see the result when a talented high school athlete decides they don’t want to play in college. When this happens, parents are frustrated and stunned because they’ve put so much time and money into club sports.
There are many opportunities to get involved in sports at Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School. In middle school, kids should participate in multiple activities in order to learn what they like to do the most and where their talents fit best. Our high school staff also believes that athletes should play more than one sport. Our coaches support our students and families that are able and want that experience.
Our high school athletes that choose to participate in one sport will train like the rest of our athletes in our Performance Program throughout the year. This training program is designed to develop strength, speed, and flexibility. Under the supervision of our Director of Performance who is a certified strength and conditioning coach, they are exposed to proper movements on different surfaces designed to enhance their performance and prevent injuries. In the case of athletes that are specializing, training programs like this are essential. It serves the same function as participation in a second sport and helps minimize the possible negative effects of specialization.
Kids and parents involved in athletics will undoubtedly face decisions about specialization. We hope they will take into consideration the benefits of participating in multiple sports or training programs. We also hope kids develop athletically and reach their potential as they move through middle school and high school while at the same time learn so many of the life lessons that athletic experiences can teach.
This piece was written by both Cy Frederick and Bret Walter, Athletic Administrators at Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School.