One of the best sport classes my son participated in was a sports sampling course. One week was spent playing tennis, the next soccer, the next basketball, the next baseball. In this class, young children worked on the basics of the skills required for each sport but the main purpose of the class was to develop gross motor skills in a fun way that kept the kids' interest. I was thrilled to have my son participate in this developmentally appropriate approach.
What is early sport specialization?
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) defined early sport specialization (ESS) “as the intensive training or competition in organized sport by prepubescent children (under the age of 12) for more than eight months per year, with a focus on a single sport to the exclusion of other sport and free play.”
Should children specialize in one sport at an early age?
Children should not specialize in one sport too intensely at an early age. The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine found that because of diversified sport experiences, athletes who did not specialize in one sport are more athletic. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that many successful college and elite athletes played multiple sports as youth and delayed intense training until later adolescence. In fact, early specialization may lead to shortened athletic careers. The AAP states that sport specialization should not occur until after puberty, which may be around 15 or 16 years of age.
How many hours a week should a child participate in a sport?
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine further states that kids should not participate in their sport for “more hours per week than their age.
What is the harm of specializing in one sport?
Shortened athletic careers can be attributed to the increased risks faced by those who specialize in a sport prematurely. Physical risks to the athlete include overtraining and overuse injuries. Emotional risks include loss of enjoyment, burnout, anxiety, and depression. Social risks include isolation from peers outside of their sport. Additionally, specializing youth are at risk of manipulating and controlling adults. Athletes may have strictly regulated diets, which may include the use of chemical substances. Athletes may also encounter sexual, physical or emotional abuse at the hands of adults within their sport on whom they are overly dependent.
Sport diversification is ideal for young athletes.
Sports organizations and parents should reduce the risk of harm to children by encouraging sport diversification and delaying intensive single sport training. This can be seen as an opportunity for sports organizations to encourage more athletes to participate in more sports for a longer period of time in a child’s life. This may also include opportunities to excite new and returning customers with refreshed or revised programming for younger kids, which follows a developmentally appropriate model.