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


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