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 #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
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.
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- 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
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