Does Specialization Have a Place in Youth Sports?

To specialize is to be designed, trained, or fitted for one particular purpose or occupation, the process of concentrating on and becoming an expert in a particular subject or skill. In the world of sports, specialization involves an investment in a single sport through systematic training and competition, typically including year-round participation in that sport, to pursue proficiency and enjoyment in a signature activity. Specialization is what our youth are being asked to do today, at an early age.  They are being asked to pick one sport, which can result in:

  1. Higher rates of injury
  2. Increased psychological stress
  3. Quitting sports at a young age

There is a general perception that exists today that to receive a scholarship, make millions, and be famous, you need to focus on one sport at an early age. However, diversifying and playing as many sports as possible is the way an athlete should prepare for long-term success in sports. For example, in this year’s NFL Draft:

  • 29 of the 32 players picked in the first round played multiple sports in high school.
  • The 2018 class included 14 three-sport athletes, a remarkable rate of 43.75 percent (same as the 2017 first round).

Additional research has shown that 70% of youth sports participants stop playing sports after age 13. So how do we fix this?  We need to teach kids that diversification creates a well-rounded skill set suited to pick up any ball, bat, stick, glove, club, racket and learn something from it for years to come.

I learned at an early age how a wide array of balls fly, spin, and bounce differently resulting in a rapid development of my hand-eye coordination when chasing, dodging, or attempting to catch these different balls. In the summer, I honed my hand-eye coordination and lightened my feet by playing hackie sack, badminton, workup and dodgeball with my brothers and cousins. I developed my spatial awareness and a sixth sense by playing dodgeball on a trampoline with four friends throwing nerf balls at me.

Learning body control at a young age played a key role in helping me avoid any serious injuries during my career at ASU, Arizona Cardinals, and with the Denver Broncos. Fourteen years of high-level football and I didn’t just walk away from the game, I skipped into a handball court with my brothers and started playing a life sport. I yearned for a different shaped ball or a glove or club to provide a diversion of immense importance.

Leveraging training resources with this concept in mind, such as ReadyListYouth.com, will enable growth and learning to take place across multiple sports, with a focus on teaching kids how to learn. Kids experiencing multiple sports, the thrill of competition on different fields of play, and ultimately learning life sports will bring them joy for many years to come.

 

Jake “the Snake” Plummer is a founder of ReadyList Sports and a 10-year vet and Pro Bowl quarterback in the NFL (Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos). He is known for his All-American season and run to the Rose Bowl while at Arizona State, winning the Cardinals’ first playoff game since 1947, and breaking John Elway’s franchise records while taking the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game in 2005.

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