In this age of social media, it seems like just about everything is measured in terms of what is trending and what is not. One of the growing trends among parents of young children – sometimes as young as 10 or 11 – is steering the child toward one specific sport. This is being done to the point that these young athletes are considered “specialized” in the sport they choose, or is chosen for them by their parents.
Is this a trend that could fit your child? Is it better for children to be involved in multiple sports as they’re growing up? These are questions more and more parents and child specialists are asking. Should you find yourself wondering what would be best for your own child, here’s a few of the pros and cons of having a child who plays only one sport.
When comparing both sides of this issue, the “cons” side seems to come up with more research behind it than the “pros” side does. That being said, there are a few benefits that are supported by research.
The strongest support in favor of specialization is found in support of women’s gymnastics and women’s figure skating. These sports are two of the very few in which peak performance generally occurs in adolescence or early adulthood. If a young athlete’s only goal is to improve his or her performance in one particular sport, then early specialization may give the athlete, and his or her coach, a better chance of success in the child’s age group.
Specialization may offer a young athlete short-term psychological or emotional rewards as well as access to a higher level of coaching and competition. The youth sports of today are frequently measured as successful through the selection to teams that participate in elite competitions that require travel. These early successes in sports may foster an increased self-esteem that motivates the athlete to continue in the sport.
For the majority of young athletes, early specialization has negative consequences that can manifest over time.
Studies have shown that early specialization can increase social isolation in a child who is spending the amount of time training that most high-level competitions require. This can interfere with a child’s healthy socialization among peers. The specialization of the training itself can also hinder, rather than help, overall skills development by limiting a child’s development of a wider range of motor skills.
Overuse injuries are more common in children who specialize in one sport. These are injuries most often seen in the hips, knees, and ankles and feet. This can lead to a shortening of the youth’s athletic career when there are repeated injuries over time.
Children who specialize in one sport at an early age are found to have a reduced chance of staying active in sports as adults. This is generally attributed to an increased incidence of burnout among these young athletes, resulting in them not only quitting their chosen sport but giving up all sports.
Early specialization can also deny children a part of what makes them children: their propensity to frequently change their minds. By focusing so intently on one single goal, children are infused with the values of adulthood before they master the interests of childhood.
Whether specialization is right for your child is a decision every parent of a young athlete has to make on their own. Whatever the decision, don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal of all sports: have some fun! So much can be learned by participating in sports but every game doesn’t have to be a learning experience.
Sometimes, it’s fine to let the game just be a game, enjoy the moment and move along when it’s over.