By Ken Reed
The trend of sport specialization in youth sports continues unabated. Parents and coaches tell kids as young as seven and eight that they need to specialize in a single sport if they ever hope to be successful. Too many parents don’t even give kids a choice between single-sport participation and multi-sport participation. They simply tell their kids that they will play X sport year-round.
Sport specialization increases the risk of both physical injury and emotional injury (burnout). Moreover, the research shows that kids that sample multiple sports when they are young have a better chance of eventually becoming elite athletes than the early specialists.
“Among athletes who go on to become elite, early sampling across sports and delayed specialization is by far the most common path to the top,” says David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
Yes, there are some specialists that have gone on to successful sports careers (Tiger Woods being the most notable) but there are many more generalists, kids who played a variety of sports as youngsters, including John Elway, Roger Federer, Patrick Mahomes and Abby Wambach, who became elite athletes.
The members of the 2015 U.S. national women’s soccer team are but one example. The players on that squad participated in at least 14 different sports besides soccer. And, instead of hindering their soccer development, they all believed that playing multiple sports enhanced their soccer careers.
Epstein says that in sampling a variety of sports young athletes learn and develop a range of skills that can eventually help them in their ultimate sport of choice. While sampling, young athletes discover what they are good at, and just as importantly for long-term success, what they really like.
The research shows that when you’re passionate about something — within or outside of sports — chances are you will pursue that activity with focus and determination, enhancing your chances of success.
And you’ll have a lot more fun along the way. And having fun at something is a great predictor of not only success but happiness.
— 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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