By Joe Haefner
There’s a lot of misinformation about whether kids should specialize in one sport year-round…or play a variety of sports…and if/when specialization should begin.
We (breakthroughbasketball.com) believe that youth should play a variety of sports and not specialize in basketball until age 14 or older. In fact, we encourage athletes to play multiple sports through high school if possible.
USA Basketball shares our philosophy on this. They partnered with the NBA in 2016 and developed the following guidelines based on how much time of the year should be devoted to playing basketball – based on what’s best for the health and wellness of players.
Maximum Months Per Year in Organized Basketball:
● Ages 7-8: 4 months
● Ages 9-11: 5 months
● Ages 12-14: 7 months
● Grades 9-12: 9-10 months
There are a host of benefits from being a multi-sport athlete. For example, becoming a better overall athlete, having better mental health and less burnout, having fewer injuries, finding a hidden talent for a sport, becoming a life-long athlete … the list goes on and on.
We believe delaying single-sport specialization helps you become a better athlete. Consider these NBA and WNBA stars: Lebron James played football; Kobe Bryant played soccer; Steve Nash played soccer; Michael Jordan played football and baseball; and Sue Bird played soccer, tennis and ran track.
Or, how about Tim Duncan, who started playing basketball at 14 years old and was actually a professional swimmer before finding his path to basketball success!
In addition, in almost every sport, post-puberty is when the majority of skill development occurs. So, make sure you don’t burn them out before it’s time to start rapid improvement. (70% of kids quit sports before age 13.) You’ll be amazed at how many of those athletes who dominate from 8 to 13 years-old get passed by in high school.
I haven’t even put my 7-and-8 -year-old boys in any basketball activities yet. Basketball is a very late developing sport, so I’ve focused on them developing as athletes first.
Over a decade ago, I learned in a Youth Fitness Specialist certification course that getting children in a variety of activities is the best thing for their long-term development. This year, I put my boys in soccer, gymnastics (tumbling), jiu-jitsu & striking, and swimming. We do this recreationally and seasonally. And we mix in some baseball, kickball, and football in the backyard.
While my kids aren’t as skilled as some of the kids on the soccer field, they can run with any of them, even though they are younger than almost all of the kids in their leagues.
You never know what sport an athlete is going to be good at. It’s best not to pigeon-hole them into one sport and instead let them blossom from all the benefits of being a multi-sport athlete.
Joe Haefner is a co-founder of Breakthrough Basketball. He has head coach and assistant coach experience at every level from 3rd grade to high school varsity and has trained high-level Division I players and NBA draft picks.
Sports Forum Podcast
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. Linda writes extensively about how youth sports can hijack families, and family outings, non-sports activities and bonding time are lost in the pursuit of the next club team game or travel tournament.
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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.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon