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Does Youth Sport Specialization Defy Logic?

I woke this morning and the first subject line in my inbox was: "Youth Sports Specialization Defies Logic by Ken Reed". Of course I was excited to read this over my cereal and I think it's worth every sporting parent taking a look also. You can read the article on Hugginton Post by copy and pasting this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ken-reed/youth-sports-specializati_b_6084732.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Let me first say that as far as "Sport" is concerned, I have a ten year old son who has played only Soccer for the past 18-24 months, plays/trains 11 months a year and attends soccer camps and clinics. I also have a 14 year old son who stopped playing Cricket once he was selected in an elite soccer program when he was eleven (as this was the expectation and reality of time constraints). He also competes all year round.

I found Ken Reed's article to be very interesting and thought provoking and at first I thought, "I can see Ken's argument. However, times have changed and kids these days need to get serious about their sporting futures earlier - for some sports - or risk missing the boat". But on the other hand, I have always been a believer that those who dominate Junior Sport can potentially put themselves at a disadvantage because those who learn to work harder will eventually rise up the ranks. I would agree (and have long believed) that overuse injuries, lack of global and synergistic muscle development and mental fatigue are real concerns for those specializing at a young age.

So it sounds like I agree with Ken.... or do I?

Well I suppose the easiest way to express my suggestions to parents like you is to tell you how my wife and I approach it with our sons.

  1. We are always guided by our sons - We have two boys who love Soccer and only want to play Soccer at a club and at the highest level that they can achieve. My eldest spends the vast majority of his time training, practicing, playing, reading about or watching Soccer. So if they love it, why would we not encourage it? By the same token it is always their choice how much they do.

  2. Use school to broaden their horizons - As far as developmental and career  pathways are concerned, for many sports these days schools do not offer significant opportunities, so why not try something different. This year alone my eldest has participated in Volleyball, Basketball, Table Tennis, Handball, Athletics and Cross Country. Each of these Sports Teams have provided a different group of team mates, different skill requirements, fun and a mental release as well as allowing him to still represent his school with pride and challenge his sporting abilities without impacting his Soccer development.

  3. Cross Training - I am a Personal Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach who works with many young athletes, so obviously my two sons are two of the participants in my sessions. Most weeks my boys will attend one or two 50 minute Strength and Conditioning session and they love it. In much the same way as school sport can provide fantastic mental benefits such as a different environment, different peers, coaches, challenges and rewards, so do our Youth Strength and Conditioning sessions. There are also physical benefits such as learning correct movement patterns, strength development, injury prevention etc. These sessions have become my sons "Second Sport" and when you add what they do at school I think the single sport concerns are well and truly mitigated.

  4. Recovery (Mental and Physical) - Finally, we make sure that our boys eat really well, drink loads of water, stretch, use foam rollers and play Ipad and Playstation. Yes, Playstation. Why, because it's fun! And of course, their favorite game is FIFA 15.

About David Vella
Dave is a strong believer in teaching healthy habits early and believes that if coaches and exercise professionals can create a fun, encouraging and educational environment around sports, fitness and health, future generations can benefit. He is also the Co-Director of the SCA Junior Soccer Camp Brisbane

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