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Determining The Effect Specialization Has On Young Athletes

With school back in session, parents who believe their children might be destined to take part in sports at the professional level will soon be tempted to push their kids into specializing in that one sport.  But recent studies and anecdotal evidence have revealed that early specialization could actually be detrimental to a child’s development, contributing to longterm injuries and causing the child to derive little enjoyment from the sport itself.

A new report takes a look at exactly what the correct age is to start having a child focus exclusively on one sport.  Basically, there’s no hard and fast rule that governs when a child should focus in on just one activity.  That said, there are certain conclusions that might be reached by looking at the current evidence available.

The worries are threefold, and just one of them pertains to injuries.  In addition to being made more susceptible to injury than other athletes who get a balanced exercise regimen, players may also be more inclined to drop out of the sport they’re honed in on due to the fact that they’re just plain burnt out.  Specialization may also take its psychological toll on athletes.

The data analyzed for various studies reveals some of the risks.  The article cites one study which looked at 400 pitchers.  When youth pitchers were asked to throw 100 innings or more, the threat of injury was three and a half times as great.  And other research revealed that, among those pitchers required to throw for eight months or more in a given year, elbow and shoulder surgery was far more common.

It’s not surprising then to see that athletes are leaving the very sports they were driven to play.  One of five elite athletes analyzed in one study had to quit the sport they were playing due to injury.  Still others may quit simply because they’re sick of focusing on that one activity.  They may eventually suffer from depression and other issues.

Some sports may never be able to get away from specialization at an early age.  Gymnastics, for instance, seems to hinge on getting athletes ready to compete as early as possible.  But for many other sports, the benefits of playing more than one sport look to far outweigh the supposed lack of ability development.  Not only can children see their mental health improve when they’re not boxed into a corner, but they can benefit from having their body itself develop in the way it was supposed to, not having to worry about increased injury risks and various hazards.

The author comes to the conclusion that late adolescence is probably the time at which specialization can be begun.  The thought is that this contributes to safety and success in equal measure.


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