Ask the Experts
Should my daughter
specialize in one sport?
My daughter is in 7th grade and plays soccer
and basketball, swims, and runs track. One of our friends has suggested
that she just focus only on soccer and not waste her time playing these
other sports, as it will help her get the edge and might even lead to
a college scholarship. Should she specialize in one sport?
Welcome to the world of youth sports in the new millennium. More and
more children are specializing in one single sport and training year
round in the hopes of gaining a competitive edge. In fact, many people
feel that the notion of an all-around athlete is dying.
The question of
early sport specialization and year round training is a controversial
one. Proponents argue that it improves young athletes’ chances of sport
success and helps build winning programs. Critics argue that early specialization
results in increased stress and burnout, specialization in a sport that
might not be best suited for the child, increased injuries, and decreased
fun and satisfaction. In addition, early specialization results not
from children’s desire to specialize but from their parents. These critics
also contend that the vast majority of children (over 90%) will never
reach the elite levels, so specializing in one sport will rob them of
the opportunity to have multiple sport experiences and learn a variety
of sport and motor skills.
research on this question is lacking. However, several national panels
of experts from sports medicine and science have convened to discuss
the topic. These panels have definitively stated that it is not in the
best interest of the child to specialize in a single sport and engage
in year round training prior to puberty. Rather multi-sport participation
should be encouraged and fostered.
research on elite athletes verify this conclusion, as most played multiple
sports when they grew up and specialized in one sport later in their
teenage years. It was felt that this allowed them to develop multiple
skills, find the sport for which they were best suited, and reduced
the chance of injury as well as stress induced burnout.
So what does this
mean for you and your daughter? I agree with the American Academy of
Pediatrics expert panel recommendation that prior to puberty you should
encourage your child to participate in multiple sports and not specialize
in one. Be careful, however, not to be involved in so many sports that
all you do is run from practice to practice and game-to-game. Participating
in a number of sports will allow your daughter to develop a number of
motor skills, have varied sport experiences, meet kids from varied backgrounds,
and try her hand at a number of sports. It will also decrease the likelihood
that she will burnout and experience an overuse injury.
When your daughter
is in her teens she might think about focusing more attention on one
sport or play on at team in one sport for more than one season. However,
she still may want to take part in other sports, but perhaps not as
intensely or in so many. If she is truly talented, a time to specialize
and train year round in one sport will come, but this shouldn’t be too
Daniel Gould, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for the Study of Youth Sports