The idea of a young athlete specializing in a sport for an entire year or at least a good portion of it seems to be more common than ever. I know of parents who are sold on the idea of making sure their young son or daughter has a chance to develop their skill set in soccer, hockey, baseball, etc. with the hopes of taking their athletic career as far as possible. To do this, these young athletes are playing a sport at the club level basically all year around.
Is this right?
I don’t think it would be fair of me to answer yes or no to that question without knowing more facts. What I do feel the need to discuss are the 4 key concerns I have when a youngster is going about his/her sports activities this way:
1. HAVING FUN- Many think that having fun is the direct opposite of tough competition. Truth is that they can both be present at the same time. When an athlete is on an advance club team that has high goals and ambitions, there still needs to be an environment present that is fun and enjoyable to be in. I believe in the importance of keeping both of these present simultaneously and kids should be questioned regularly if they are having fun and feeling good about being in this competitive environment.
2. DEVELOPING ATHLETICALLY- I have always been of the belief that sports skills aren’t as complex as many people think they are. The female soccer player wanting to develop her goalie skills, the baseball player wanting to perfect his hitting swing, or the football quarterback wanting to improve his throwing accuracy are all important parts of development that these athletes should spend time on, but in many cases at the youth level, I witness these skills attempting to be developed only with incredibly high amounts of practice hours without any other type of training. Time does need to be spent on sport skill development, but just as much time should be spent on developing athleticism (speed, quickness, agility, strength, power, body control, flexibility). This to me is the big area of need at the youth sport level that isn’t being addressed by the masses properly. It is of my strong opinion that developing this athleticism should be of much higher priority than developing specific sports skills with youth athletes, especially if there are aspirations of longer, more successful athletic careers.
3. PLAYING MULTIPLE SPORTS- No matter how much an athlete loves a certain sport, we are all susceptible to burnout if we do one thing in excess. Playing more than one sport is a great way to satisfy the competitive juices we have and be exposed to other forms of competition and challenges. This is one theme that is shared by almost every successful coach that I know. As proud as they are of their sport they coach, without hesitation they acknowledge the fact that playing multiple sports is a better option than just specializing in one.
4. TAKING TIME OFF- As human beings, we all need to recharge our batteries from any one specific stimulus done over a period of time. As a long time football coach, I love the idea of being immersed in football and thinking about trying to improve my program any way possible, but even with this motivation, I need a good couple of months after a season ends to take time away from it and smell the roses. From an athletes perspective, they should feel refreshed and energized going into an athletic season. and taking time off to do so should be encouraged.
I know of many very good, high qualified coaches who coach youth club sports that do a wonderful job of coaching kids in a very positive way. This is definitely not an article that attacks these coaches in any way, but in my observations of these sport situations and the way the masses of parents perceive their use to their children, I have seen certain patterns of thought that come about that are concerning to me. I would hope that these concerns of mine stimulate thought in any parents that have children in these sport situations for the sake of improving their sport activities in a variety of ways.