Many athletes start playing a sport as a child and never try anything else. Parents often send their children to specialized training from an early age, with the mindset that this is what creates the potential for a child to become a great athlete. However, youth specialization is actually counterproductive.
The child’s skills in a specific sport may grow, but he/she does not develop as an athlete.
There are various risks of sport specialization at a young age:
- reduced athletic skill acquisition
- reduced movement patterns
- overuse of individual patterns
- increased injury risk
To avoid these risks, well-rounded athletic development is key. Here are four simple steps to prioritize long-term athletic development:
1. Play as many sports possible. Playing various sports develops overall athleticism. The more sports young athletes play, the more athletic skills they can acquire. Moreover, playing various sports will help them determine which ones they really love and which ones they are good at.
2. Play around in each sport. Playing competitively is good for sports development but equally important is to just have fun with playing the game, for the sake of play. Pick up play allows the game to be looked at as just a game.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Do not ever avoid practice. Remember that developing fundamental sport skills is important in every sport. Games are great, but they are the reward for consistent practice.
4. Make sure the athlete is always having fun! Sports should be fun, especially for children. If your child isn’t enjoying a sport, it’s a good sign that you should try another.
“Become a long-term athlete first, before you become any specific sport athlete.” – Judah Boulet