Does it really make a difference?

Is it right to specialize in sports? Does it benefit an athlete in any way? I have always wondered about this topic. Growing up I played many sports. At one time or another I played baseball, basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics and wrestling. I have always loved athletics, and for me it wasn’t until I got to college that I specialized in a sport. I don’t know if it is because my parents wanted me and my older brother to stay active, or if they believed it was best for us to play sports we wanted to play no matter how many it was, but specialization was never a topic I worried about. Sports in general offer many advantages to kids. Specializing in a specific sport, in my opinion, at too young of an age could have negative effects on future athletes. For example, if a ten-year-old boy is told that he will play football and that he will only play football he may eventually grow to resent the sport. If his whole life is centered on becoming the best football player he can be, he could easily burn out and learn to hate the sport he was told to love. On the other hand, if a young athlete chooses to specialize in a sport, there must be enough love and passion for that sport for them to make that decision. I think that’s what my parents were trying to achieve. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play whatever sport I wanted. I was able to try out different things until I finally made the decision on my own to focus my time and effort on playing football. I think that if I had been restricted to just playing football, I would have lost my interest in the sport. I also think that if a child plays multiple sports he develops the skills that are unique to those sports. For me, I still have the flexibility from gymnastics and wrestling, hand eye coordination from baseball, and the mental toughness it takes to compete at any sport at a semi-high level. I believe that there are many answers to the question of whether it is better for a child to specialize in a sport at an early age or to explore different sports until they choose the sport that they want to specialize in. What do you think? Is specialization a big aspect of sports these days? On a similar note, does it take specializing early to become an elite athlete?

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4 Responses to Does it really make a difference?

  1. Fearless Leader ugogal says:

    I agree completely that it’s best to explore lots of different options and specialize as late as possible. We were pressured by lots of different coaches to commit our daughter to swimming and premiere soccer, which we resisted, and then she eventually gave them both up for running. She was just recruited by Middlebury for cross country, but I think if she had been running for ten years, she probably would have had enough by now. Instead, she kept strong and fit in other sports, which made her a better runner.

  2. Flipper Flipper says:

    Like the other two commenters, I too have seen the “burn out” effect of child proteges. In the figure skating world there is a lot of pressure to begin with, but the story of one particular girl comes to my mind. This girl was born to Russian parents who were both figure skating coaches and quite strict ones at that. She was never allowed to go to school; they had her home schooled her from the start. They put her on ice as soon as she could walk, and by the time she was 11 (when I first became acquainted with her) they had her skating at least 6 hours every single day of her life. And it paid off for a while – she was very good and always kicked my butt pretty royally. But this poor girl had no concept of the world whatsoever. I used to call her the machine. She never smiled, didn’t have any friends, and didn’t know much about anything other than figure skating. Trying to talk to her was one of the more bizarre and confusing experiences I’ve had. But despite all her focus and training, and regardless of all the money and energy that was poured into improving her, by the time she was 13 she was just done. She had a lot of success on the junior circuit, but her name simply vanished from the national ranks after that. Last I heard of her, she was working for the Disney on Ice shows, had been arrested for stealing money from skate bags, and was significantly obese. Kinda depressing if you ask me. You couldn’t pay me enough to trade my life for hers even back then.

  3. ColdWeatherCajun says:

    With regard to specializing too early: A good friend of mine began wrestling when he was in elementary school. He did quite quite well as a wrestler. However, it was high school track and field where he really began to succeed. He was a state champion race walker. Yes, racewalking. And yes, it is a sport. This might seem a funny anecdote. However, the reason why he claimed he was able to do so well and break so many records was because of the “hip control” he developed in wrestling. Likewise, I believe you can find even slight crossover between most sports. I think as long as an athlete received some level of training at a young age they should be able to find some way to apply what they have learned.

  4. kbox2015 says:

    I agree with your post. I have met a lot of athletes, both from high school and college, who have been swimming for so many years that they no longer have the desire to continue. I personally stopped swimming in college the middle of my freshman year because I had burnt out and I wanted to try other things. Although I did choose to focus on swimming at the age of ten, it conflicted with my other love, soccer, and I was forced to pick a sport. I don’t always think that specialization in sports comes from deciding to only focus on the one sport, but I think that it may also come from the fact that a lot of the seasons overlap and the more competitive that it gets, the more time consuming it gets. I do sometimes wonder “what if?” in relation to what would have happened if I had stayed doing soccer, or if I had done one of the other sports that I did not enjoy as much such as basketball and gymnastics. I guess it works for some people but not others!

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