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 #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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