By Ken Reed
One of the negatives to evolve out of the explosion in club sports organizations for young people in this country is a disturbing trend of children specializing in a single sport at earlier and earlier ages. Club sports administrators and coaches are often driven by bottom line considerations: finding and keeping the best athletes in their program so they can win more championships, tout more kids getting college scholarships, and, as a result, attract more money-spending parents of young athletes to their organization.
The result of the early specialization trend is kids burning out emotionally from a year-round schedule that even professional athletes don’t keep, and a big increase in overuse injuries because young athletes are stressing the same muscles and tendons, in the same ways, over and over again. In addition, kids are specializing before their bodies have matured and their interests have fully developed. A young person’s body might be ideally suited for one sport at age 10 but after puberty it might be better suited for a different sport. Kids develop mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally at different ages but the pressure to specialize at an early age remains nonetheless.
There are a variety of factors to consider if you’re wondering whether or not to have your child specialize in one sport or not. But too few parents are fully considering them.
The quest to get kids college athletic scholarships is at the root of a lot of this early specialization. Club sports officials start touting athletic scholarships as early as 5th grade. The problem is the reality: very few high school senior athletes end up playing varsity sports in college, fewer yet get athletic scholarships, and even fewer get full-ride scholarships that pay the full cost of college attendance.
But if securing a full-ride athletic scholarship remains the goal for your son or daughter, consider that many sports medicine specialists believe that specializing in a sport before the age of 14 can have negative effects. Also, there is no proof that kids that specialize early perform better in that sport in their late teens and early 20’s than kids that played multiple sports early in their careers. Finally, a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that young athletes who delay specializing in one sport are more coordinated and physically fit than those who specialize early.
Here’s the takeaway for parents and coaches: Think long and hard about having young athletes specialize in a single sport early in their athletic careers. Just because it’s the hot trend doesn’t mean it’s right for most kids.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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