To Excel, Athletes Should Play Other Sports
Several people have inquired why Gulfport Pirates Youth Sports Inc. plans include several sports for our youth to be involved with versus concentrating on just football and cheerleading. Our views on youth athletes specializing in one sport are shared by many nationally staged organizations, including the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA).
What we learned might surprise you. As it turns out, Positive Coaching Alliance typically advises that youth players not specialize too soon. This might sound contrary to what many parents were thinking, worried about “over-scheduling” of their kids or a general concern about too many activities. And there are a number of reasons for PCA’s advice.
In pursuit of scoreboard wins, too many coaches too often tell too many children to drop everything but their sport. However, when coaches pressure athletes to specialize too early, there is an increased risk of dropout, burnout, and overuse injuries.
When you factor in poor on-field performance and interpersonal stress resulting from children being pushed against their will, early specialization may well backfire. Most importantly, the win-at-all-cost mentality that leads to early specialization often comes at the expense of fun and the youth player’s opportunity to learn life lessons through sport. Here at Gulfport Pirates we want our youth to have a blast with the sports, build lasting friendships; while building strong positive character that will get them through life.
“Prior to puberty, generally age 12 and under, the idea is to expose kids to multiple sports,” says Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University, and a member of PCA’s National Advisory Board. “You should try two or three sports, none of them year-round, and really, ‘sport-shop’!”
From age 12 through high school, children still should play multiple sports, Gould recommends, though he acknowledges that cuts, tryouts and greater time commitments mean “kids and parents may not have time to do it all, so the child may have to choose a sport with the parent’s guidance.”
Note that Gould recommends the child choose. The danger in parents choosing - or giving in to a coach’s demand - is that “maybe that’s not the right sport, and maybe, like 97 percent of the rest of the population, your child is not going to play college sports,” Gould says. “It takes 10 years and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become proficient, so people start early to get all those hours in. But if kids don’t fall in love with that sport early, they never get all those hours.”
This approach to sport specialization leaves plenty of room for youth athletes, coaches and parents to pursue sports success. For example, those who choose to compete in winter and spring sports likely will return to their fall sport seasons rejuvenated by time off and physically and mentally prepared to reassume the unique rigors of baseball, football, or other fall sports.
Also, there is a rich history of outstanding athletes who excelled in multiple sports before finally landing in one sport professionally. Their participation throughout high school and college brought things like increased speed, strength and agility from their other sports back to their primary sport. Here are a few examples:
In short, far more harm than good often comes from early specialization, and in the best cases, far more good than harm can come from letting players flourish in places other than just one sport. Gulfport Pirates Youth Sports organization has the mindset to allow the kids to enjoy all sports, while understanding the importance of getting a solid education.