Early Specialization

What do Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Marion Jones, and John Elway have in common? Need a hint….each of them excelled in multiple sports before becoming professional athletes. Here is another one: What do Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Michael Phelps have in common. Most people would answer “they were young phenoms” (or some degree of that). That is correct to an extent, however, they all participated in individual sports. Most team sports are deemed late specialization sports. In late specialization sports, such as baseball, football, and basketball, research has shown early focus in these sports actually can cause slower development.

I would encourage parents and coaches to walk around on their toes for 1 day at work. Sounds a little crazy, but give it a go and see how your body reacts. For those of you who would rather not, let me tell you what happens. Your calves feel like they want to explode, your back aches for days, and if you do it long enough the soles of your shoes wear out abnormally. So what does this have to do with early specialization—-EVERYTHING. This is what we do to children when we ask them to participate in one sport year around. We stress muscle groups that are required for that sport skill and do not allow the opposing groups to balance the body out.

  • Love the walking on toes idea. Playing other sports gives kids the chance to become all around better athletes. And skills from one sport can translate over into another. Obviously as they get older it’s hard to play more than one sport a season and not get burnt out, but at the same time playing one sport all year round can also lead to burnout and over use injuries.

    • Athletes for Life

      You are absolutely correct….Transferable skills create overall athletes, however, as athletes reach 15-16 yro they are physically mature enough to handle the stress of specialization. Great post.