Why Kids Shouldn’t Specialize in One Sport

Too Long on the Playing Field? Why More Young Athletes Are Specializing in One Sport – and Why They Shouldn’t Be

"It [specialization] is one of the worst developments imaginable at the youth sports level. Physically, emotionally, developmentally, it's a huge, huge mistake. And it absolutely is happening. It is sweeping the country." -- Bruce Svare, Ph.D., director of the National Institute for Sports Reform

By Deirdre Wilson

Turning 10 is a big milestone for kids. Double digits. Fifth grade. Being a tween. What turning 10 should not be is a time to decide what sport you'll specialize in for the rest of your youth.

Yet, that's exactly what's happening for more and more young children, despite objections from physicians, child-development experts and even youth sports advocates.

Kids as young as 9 or 10 are forgoing other sports to focus on one athletic interest, such as soccer, hockey or gymnastics. The leagues and coaches behind this movement offer year-round practice sessions, weekend tournaments and other competitions - along with the idea that kids who specialize can become star players, have a better chance at making high-school varsity teams or select traveling teams and, ultimately, scoring an athletic scholarship to college.

"I'm seeing kids having to choose, at age 10, whether to play baseball or lacrosse," says Richard Ginsburg, Ph.D., a sports psychologist and co-author of the new book Whose Game Is It, Anyway? "I'm seeing some kids deciding not to play basketball in the winter because they need to play soccer all year-round."

By age 13, about 70 percent of kids involved in a youth sport will have quit. One of the most cited reasons kids give for quitting is that it "isn't fun anymore." 

Institute for the Study of Youth Sports
Michigan State University

But that's not all that Ginsburg and other health-care providers are seeing. Kids at younger ages are suffering serious injuries from overusing muscles, bones and joints in their particular sport.

"If you talk with any orthopedic or pediatric person, they'll tell you the same thing," says Bruce Svare, Ph.D., director of the National Institute for Sports Reform and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the State University of New York in Albany. "These kids are showing up now in their offices at increasing rates with injuries that sometimes are career-ending."

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