Friday Fit Tip of the Week The PRO’s and CON’s of SPORT SPECIFIC TRAINING

Updated: December 4, 2015

Friday Fit Tip of the Week

Coaches, parents and sport performance coaches have noticed a spike in the last decade in one-sport athletes and the rise of “sport specific” training in programs. Here at Coach Rozy, and in the area, we deal the majority of the time with mutli-sport athletes, but the trend is shifting, even in small communities and sport programs.

In speaking with coaching buddies across the country, they see the same trend – and share the pro’s and con’s for this shift and sports.

One buddy in Nebraska, who only has 4 players on his basketball team that do other sports, shared this: “That’s pretty much how it works out every year.” He stated, “The specialization impact is a very real thing. But I think that’s a result of the fact that kids no longer play for the school or play for the community or for the love of sport. They’re playing for a specific goal, which is a college scholarship.”

Specialization is popular, and there can be many pros and cons when a player decides to focus on one sport and training just for that specific skill set.

Another friend in Ohio told me, “I tell them, ‘Play as many sports as you want until you’re a freshman, and then you’ve got to sort of decide which avenue you want to go down,’” ‘If it’s going to be football, soccer, basketball or baseball, and you want to get really really good – you have to put a lot of time in.’”

Pros of Specialization
The No. 1 “PRO” for a specialized athlete is easy to identify:

A players skill level (should) skyrocket if that’s all he’s doing and if he or she is receiving good instruction.
Kids that excel and are doing one sport are not only going through their high school programs, but they’re also having personal trainers beyond that. Trainers to help develop from a physical standpoint – but also trainers that help the m develop their sport skill. They’re getting tons of skill work in, and that’s what makes them elite players in this area.

For the kids that do that, it does improve the skill they have in that sport. One “CON” we see right off the bat is that some parents don’t have all the money to pay for that.

The second “PRO” for being sport specific is that a player who specializes can also help out that sport’s coach and program. If you have a kids who are only going to play one sport and the coach and athlete invest a lot of time in the program…in a high school program, that can be a positive thing. That way the group can be working on team building and chemistry all the time. The issue, which can be a “CON” for those doing multiply sports is that the kids being in other sports come back to a nucleus of guys that have only been doing that one sport and you have two different groups there.

The third “PRO” for those specializing can be the benefit for a sport coach to build a stronger bond with his player. If you have an athlete that only plays basketball, the coach can get to have a different type of relationship compared with those kids that play multiple sports. The kids that are playing multiple sports are being influenced by other adults, which can be good, but it’s easier for a coach to track an athletes grades, progress and development when I’ve got them all the time.

Cons of Specialization
Here at Coach Rozy Performance, we see more “negative” or “CON’s” when specializing in one sport. Here are a few of our reasons why:

1. It interferes with healthy child development;

Early specialization and intense participation on select teams, say child psychologists, may interfere with normal identity development, increasing the risk that a child will develop what psychologists call a one-dimensional self-concept in which an athlete sees themselves solely as an athlete instead of sports being just a part of who they are. There is also an increased risk that academics will take a backseat to athletics.

Many experts believe that if your child waits to play on a select team until sixth grade or later, and waits until high school to specialize in a single sport, they are more likely to be better adjusted and happier, have a more balanced identity, and less likely to be better adjusted and happier, have a more balanced, and less likely to have an identity crises when their competitive sports career ends, as it is likely to do after high school. This is because the negative effects of failure in one sport are far less when a child experiences success in other sports or areas of life.

2. It  doesn’t guarantee future athletic success;

Playing different sports allows an athlete to develop a variety of transferable motor skills (as with our COACH ROZY JR. PROGRAM – MOVEMENT SKILLS FOR LIFE) such as jumping, running, twisting, which ultimately help them become better at their chosen sport. It also exposes an athlete to different coaches with different coaching styles, philosophies and personalities.

Focusing on a single activity also puts all of a young athlete’s eggs in one basket. If kids don’t try other sports, how do they know whether or not they might like those sports more or be better at them? There is also an increased risk, if an athlete specializes too early, that he or she will find out (too late) that he doesn’t like the sport in which he has specialized. By postponing specialization and playing a number of different sports, your child will be better able to choose the sport he will enjoy the most and in which he ultimately have the most success

3. It hurts, rather than helps, skill development;

One of the reasons often cited in favor of early specialization in a single sport and playing on select or travel teams is that it makes a better player, promoting the development of the skills a player will need to be a successful athlete as a high school player and beyond.

The problem is that the emphasis of select teams on winning games and tournaments may actually deter your child’s athletic development for the following reasons: True learning doesn’t occur during games, where players are often afraid to take risks because a mistake may cost the team the game, but in training, where players have a chance to be spontaneous, creative, try new moves, and take risks. The reason soccer players in Europe and South America are often more skilled than those produced by our soccer system is that their programs emphasize training, skill development, and creativity, and focus less on playing game after game after game, tournament after tournament. A good analogy would be if your child’s math teacher were to limit actual teaching to one day out of the week and give tests the other four days.

4. It leads to overuse injuries;

While participation in youth sports can be an enjoyable experience for children and adolescents with many potential benefits, the increasing highly competitive nature of youth sports “has fueled trends of extensive training, sport specialization, and participation in large numbers of competitive events at young ages,” [3] such that overuse injuries and burnout have become common.

While a recent position statement by one orthopedic group said that the relationship between injury and sports specialization “has not been clearly demonstrated,” many experts attribute the overuse injury epidemic to year-round play and kids playing and on too many teams at the same time, which take their toll on a child’s growing bones, joints, and muscles. Prior to high school, most children are simply not physically mature enough to handle the stress that playing the same sport on a year-round or nearly year-round basis places on their bodies.

5. It promotes adult values and interests, not those of children;

Before high school, a child is not likely to fully appreciate that if she plays on a select team she may often be practicing or going to bed early, worn out after a hard day of exercise, while her classmates are watching TV or socializing, or she may be getting up early, while others are giving their growing bodies the rest they so desperately need. While some kids choose to specialize because they realize that they have a special talent and want to improve, for many student-athletes, external pressure from parents and coaches steers them in a direction they may or may not want to go. The explosive growth of travel teams for kids before sixth grade thus reflects a youth sports system promoting the values and expectations of adults and not the best interests of children.
Children who specialize early to please adults fail to develop the critical ability to say no and to know the limitations of their bodies, knowledge that comes only with age and experience (studies show that most elite athletes don’t know their bodies, their capabilities, and their limitations, until the end of their careers, at about age thirty).

6. It increases the chances that the child will suffer burnout and quit sports.

An athlete who specializes early or plays on an ultra-competitive select team is at increased risk of burnout or quitting sports as a result of chronic stress, repetitive strain1 and a decrease in intrinsic motivation and enjoyment during their training sessions. 2

No matter how athletically gifted your child may seem, if playing sports isn’t fun, if your daughter feels pressure to achieve greatness, it won’t be long before she quits. If she does, you will always be left to wonder what she could have achieved had she taken a more balanced approach to sports.

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