Most Parents are wrong about Sport Specialization. / by James Leath

This was a conversation I had last week. It is very similar to one I had the week before that, and the week before that, and….

Me: "It's okay, I assure you. Let your daughter take a break and sample a different sport."

Parent: "But the other parents are convinced that my daughter has to play soccer year around or she will be left behind."

Me: "Well, the research doesn't support that, scientifically or anecdotally. Plus, if most kids are specializing in a sport at an early age, and most kids don't get scholarships or get to play at the professional level, then maybe don't do what most kids do."

Parent: "But I paid for the entire year. She has to finish or else I am letting her be a quitter, right?"

Me: "She is not set up for success in that situation. When we were kids, there was an end date in a few months of whatever sport we were participating in. That was when a parent should say, "You are not quitting…finish the season out.' But now, when is it over? There is seemingly no end in sight, especially since many clubs make you commit and pay for the next year before the previous year is even over!"

Parent: So, what do I do? I want her to be successful.

Me: "What does she want to do?"

Parent: "I don't know, I think she wants to play, but…"

Me: "Hold on, you haven't asked her about this? Nothing else matters until you know what she wants to do."

Parent: "But we are a soccer family. I played soccer; her dad played soccer…we don't know other sports."

Me: "Well thank God Michael Phelps family wasn't a gymnastics family. Not too many 6'4 male gymnasts out there!"

Parent: "Okay, I think I am understanding. What are some other reasons she should be sampling other sports?"

Anyways, here are three other reasons I gave her:

1. Mental Toughness Gained through Adversity

When an athlete goes from being the best on the team in one sport to a role player in another sport, they get to learn how to deal with adversity. Adversity and learning new skills develop mental toughness. When they go back to their primary sport where they are the best, they return a better leader because they had to first become a follower. This skill translates very well in the adult world.

2. Physical Maturation of the Whole Body

Parents, if you still think the idea that your child needs 10,000 hours of sport to have a better chance of playing in college, you are misinformed. Even the author that made that idea famous, Malcom Gladwell, no longer agrees. Check out this video of him and David Epstein discuss where true greatness comes from. In addition, College recruiters don't want someone with only one set of skills. Skills are taught, but athleticism is earned through years of acceleration, deceleration, rotational power, read and react, and all the other things an athlete learns by participating in multiple sports. There is no single sport that develops all of these skills alone, and therefore, no child should only participate in one sport alone.

3. Prevent Burnout

According to Michael Pfahl, executive director of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, "The number one reason (why they quit) is that it stopped being fun." Kids experience burnout in one sport, and with the pressure to always be the best, they end up missing out on childhood. Not only does the athlete get burned out, but the parents exhaust themselves physically and financially unnecessarily.

I have almost 20 years of experience coaching ages 8-21. That means kids I coached in elementary school are now in college or have graduated. Every single one, without exception, sampled or played heavily in at least three sports during grade school and at least two sports in high school.

Every, single, athlete — without exception.

So take it from someone who wants nothing but success for your child – let them play other sports. Let them develop to their full athletic potential and let them experience trying a sport in which they are not a superstar. The lesson they learn from having that experience will benefit them long after they hang up the cleats and tackle being an adult.