The reviews are in and single-sport specialization is out.
If you’re a parent or coach reading this and think, “Well, my athlete is more likely to get a college scholarship if they focus all their energy on one sport,” you may want to keep reading.
Single-sport specialization is when a child focuses intense training on just one sport while excluding others. It’s a trend that many coaches and parents bought into in the past, without fully understanding the consequences. Now, new research shows that the benefits of sports diversification far outweigh the benefits of sports specialization.
First and foremost, kids should be kids! Playing one sport year-round is much more likely to lead to burnout, which leads to quitting. Keeping sports fun will help foster a greater love for each when they require real work to play at higher levels.
For example, of 519 junior tennis players surveyed in a study for Sports Health Journal, 70 percent claimed to begin single-sport specialization by age 10, however, enjoyment and satisfaction ratings began to decrease after the age of 14.
At a young age, there's no telling where a child might excel. The world's best six-year-old soccer player isn't guaranteed to be the best in the world when they're eight years old, nevertheless 18. Fostering talent and limiting options don't have to be mutually exclusive.
If the goal is a college scholarship—which for many parents it is—keeping multiple options open could be the key to getting free tuition. Many smaller schools offer partial scholarships in two sports that can add up to a full ride.
In the Sports Health Journal study, of 376 female Division I athletes surveyed only 17 percent participated exclusively in their sport growing up and the majority had their first organized sports experiences in other sports.
There are physical benefits to sports diversification as well, including injury prevention. Different sports rely on different movement patterns. The more ways a young athlete is comfortable moving, the lower their risk for injury will be because more of their muscles will be fully developed.