My second blog on the topic of specialization will focus on issues to consider when trying to decide if specializing in a single sport is right for your child. Many experts support the notion that children under age 10 do not have the mental makeup to make a decision as important as whether or not to focus on one sport. They also believe strongly that under 10 year olds should focus on low pressure skill development and that there will be plenty of time for game play later on. There is no supporting evidence that early specialization leads to future success. A 2011 survey of the University of Wisconsin Football Team revealed that more than 75% of the players participated in more than one sport in high school. Another recent survey found that boys between the ages of 10-12 who spent many hours playing a variety of sports were more physically fit and displayed better motor coordination than those who played a single sport.
There are a couple of myths that should be dispelled.
MYTH #1 –If your child does not specialize early, then their child will not be able to maximize their own ability.
FALSE — Specialization in a sport at an early age has not been proven to give your child a better chance for success in that sport. A child who specializes in a sport at an early age can often start to see him or herself with a limited perspective as a soccer player or tennis player (fill in your child’s sport) instead of participating in that sport as being just a part of who the child is overall. A well-rounded child has a far better chance of succeeding in life.
MYTH #2 — If your child can play up an age level, then he or she should do so.
FALSE — There is no proof that playing up an age level will maximize your child’s progression in a sport. Playing with less skilled players at their age-group has not been shown to prevent or retard a child from developing their own talents. There are also drawbacks for “playing up” with older children from both a physical and social standpoint as a child who is constantly around older children can feel socially inadequate or can feel pressure to keep up and it can prevent that child from developing in an age appropriate manner.
It is very important to keep in mind the social implications that occur when your child is playing sports. Social limitations can lead to identity crisis. Adults do not always recognize the pressure a child feels when specializing in a sport at a young age. The combination of wanting to succeed, not wanting to let their team down and many times not wanting to disappoint their parents can add up to be an inordinate amount of pressure for a child. It is important to remember that learning takes place during practices and not games. If we relate sports to school, think of practice as a regular class session and a game as a test. Would you ever have 4 tests and 1 class a week? If you think of the ratio of practices/games in terms of classes and tests., how many practices per game you should make sure your child has? Try to limit games to a reasonable ratio for the amount of practices that take place.
Always try and remember that participating in sports can be a wonderful and there are so many positive aspects that come from playing sports. Do not lose sight, however, of the pitfalls that can be harmful to a child. Make sure and monitor your child regularly to make sure that they are continuing to have fun and grow as a result of their sports experience. If not, it may be time to re-examine your goals and how to accomplish them.