By Ken Reed
Adults, parents, coaches and club sports administrators continue to push young athletes into one sport on a year-round basis, despite research highlighting the negatives of this specialization trend.
According to a Journal of Sports Sciences study, young athletes who competed in three sports at ages 11, 13 and 15 were significantly more likely to compete at an elite national level in their preferred sport than those who specialized in only one.
Despite research findings like that, parents continue to believe that “professionalizing” their young athletes at an early age will result in the elusive college athletic scholarship. The numbers say this is an extremely hard goal to reach. For example, less than two percent of all the female high school volleyball and basketball players in the country will end up playing those sports at the NCAA Division I level. The number of those athletes on a full athletic scholarship will be even smaller.
However, facts like those highlighted above don’t get in the way of entrepreneurial club sports owners, administrators and coaches. Most of these clubs continue to use the allure of the athletic scholarship as the primary aspect of their marketing plans.
While club sports can definitely be a positive for a certain percentage of high school kids, for the vast majority of them specializing year-round in one sport, with one club, is a negative, both in the short run and long run.
For one thing, young year-round athletes experience overuse injuries and burnout at a much higher rate than multi-sport athletes. A study called “Risks of Specialized Training and Growth for Injury in Young Athletes: A Prospective Cohort Study” revealed that athletes ages 8-18 who were “intensely specialized in a single sport were more likely to have an injury and a serious overuse injury.” The study was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference.
A particularly sad statistic is that nearly 80% of youth athletes drop out of organized sports by age 13. Burnout from year-round practices and games, and finding the sport no longer fun are two of the biggest reasons cited.
“Playing just one sport would just get old,” says high school sophomore Hunter Barker, who plays three and sometimes four different sports during the calendar year. “It’s tiring and it’s good to take breaks.”
Ah, the wisdom of youth.
“We believe that students should play multiple sports and have found that many athletes at the higher levels (Olympics, professional, NCAA) were multi-sport athletes,” says Bert Borgmann, assistant commissioner for the Colorado High School Activities Association. “Additionally, from the non-athletic side, they are more rounded students with broader life experiences, and that can translate into a stronger adult.”
For way too many kids, deciding to specialize in a single sport year-round is wrong on multiple fronts.
As Washington Post sports columnist Fred Bowen wrote:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics specifically says don’t specialize in youth sports. So, if kids specialize by focusing on a single sport year-round, they are going against doctor’s orders. And adults who allow specialization, or encourage it, are going against doctors’ orders as well.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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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.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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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