Q: [School Age] With springtime sport team tryouts and summer camp registrations there are so many decisions for my baseball-playing son. Does specializing in one sport lead to more success than playing year-round?
A: Joining a higher level club or travel team to get better coaching and play with more talented teammates can definitely improve skills in that one sport. Studies have shown, though, that Division 1 NCAA athletes are more likely to have played multiple sports in high school and that their first organized sport was different from their current one. Reviews of studies of elite athletes revealed that, for the majority of sports, late specialization with early playing of multiple sports is most likely to lead to elite status. In addition, athletes who engaged in sport-specific training at a young age had shorter athletic careers.
Current evidence suggests that delaying sport specialization for the majority of sports until after puberty will minimize risks and lead to a higher likelihood of athletic success. Allowing children to explore a variety of sports can create more positive physically, cognitively, and socially growth. Young athletes can learn key fundamental physical movement skills with early diversification that can then transfer over to their primary sport if they decide to specialize later.
Young athletes who specialize too soon are at risk of physical, emotional, and social problems. Specializing early with intense training can lead to overuse injuries, which can cause pain and temporary loss of playing time or may lead to early sport retirement. Restriction in exposure to a variety of sports can lead to a child not experiencing a sport that he or she may truly enjoy, excel at playing, or want to play throughout adult life.
Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He offers a blend of pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Visit activekidmd.com or follow him on twitter (@dockoutures).