Is sport specialization best for young athletes?

Overuse injuries in young athletes has gotten a lot of recognition recently.  In fact famed Birmingham, AL, orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews recently deemed it an “epidemic”.  The reason for such an increase is that the number of overuse injuries has sky rocketed do to early sport specialization. 

      On the other hand, something that is overlooked is specializing in one sport at an early age can also hinder optimal athleticism.  When a child is between the ages of 7-14, the Central Nervous System (CNS) plasticity is very high.  When I say Plasticity I am referring to the ability that the CNS has to change.  Think of it like a sponge, absorbing everything it is fed.  If we stimulate the CNS with a variety of movement it will be able to grasp it and store it for later use.  This brings up a very important note; that when teaching young athletes new skills, emphasis needs to be on teaching proper technique not on how fast they can do something, or how much they can lift.   

       By playing one sport at a young age we are missing out on a “prime time” to teach efficient athletic movement.  Playing a multitude of sports will provide the CNS with a variety of movement stimuli.  The more information the CNS receives, the more it can gain and understand new information.  On the other hand if we over stimulate the CNS by constantly repeating the same pattern over and over again, we can stunt the ability for growth development (I am referring to growth development as it pertains to the CNS). 

       A concept that must be understood is that our bodies were made to push, pull, skip run, crawl, rotate, jump, hop, chase and escape.  These are all movements that are used in athletics.  To many coaches try to train the body specifically for one sport instead of realizing that sports were built around what we were already programmed to do.  Allow me to give you an example: the baseball swing.  There are a lot of phases of coordination that are involved with the swing including balance, eye-hand coordination, and hand speed to name a few.  If we would train these different phases of coordination during this age period, then when it comes to learn the sport specific movement (baseball swing) it would come a lot easier and would be more efficient.   

      In conclusion I just want to state that young children already have the natural ability and instinct to move.  We as trainers and coaches need to guide and help them discover, and explore optimal athletic development.  It’s by providing a variety of movement and skills through play and competition, without the added emotional stress to win; at least not until late adolescents.  To find out more on how you can help your young child become the best athlete that he or she can be, check out our program at

For more on the pitfalls of sports specific training check out this video from my colleague and Coach of AR South-Shore. 

Posted by Athletic Revolution | in Youth Athletic Development | 4 Comments

Comments on “Is sport specialization best for young athletes?” (4)

  1. Brian Adams

    I totally agree with this article. I grew up playing football in the Fall, basketball in the Winter, and baseball in the Spring and Summer. In doing this, I always felt that cross-sport training helped me to more fully develop athletically and also drastically improve my hand-eye coordination.
    It is great to hear that some trainers are focused on getting back to teaching a kid to be “athletic” and to develop his or her overall body coordination by playing multiple sports!
    I have now played professional baseball for 11 years and, even though I love the game of baseball, I will strongly encourage kids today to enjoy playing different sports and be excited about what the cross-training can do for you athletically!

  2. Well said Coach! This topic is becoming an epidemic fueled by coaches, parents and fitness professionals.

    Keep up the good work and keep spreading your message!


  3. […] For even more information check out this article from my friend and collegue George Maoury (Matthews, […]

  4. Coach Jim Mallos

    Awesome article. I would definitely recommend my players for off season training to get them stronger and faster.

    Coach Jim Mallos
    Carolina Pride Football


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