It has grown tiresome that we now have so many experts talking about early specialization and the detrimental effects it has on performance. I have talked about INFLUENCE in recent blog posts and it is very clear that with the population we are discussing (sport parents, coaches, and young athletes) we do not have very much.
In my experience, including the fact that I also often have limited influence as many sport parents, coaches, and athletes that would not listen to me if I chose to have this discussion, there are practical realities we have to address:
- With sport coaches as a whole often we are just injecting more crazy into the equation. As it is often hard to find qualified experts and coaches in any field, let alone finding them in one specific area, it is very hard to find such organizations and individuals at the youth level. Often you are just swapping out the crazy, specialization driven focus of one sport for another and that is just not right. "Well, Jane, your shoulder seems to be doing better since you took that break from volleyball but the excessive running you are performing during conditioning for your soccer season means your knees are now shot."
- Competition focused periods (most sport seasons) followed by another competition focused period is not a good plan. We find that many youth athletes are physically unprepared for the demands expected of them. This is just in consideration of the sport as it is played at their level and not in consideration of actual physical preparation where we would want to see improvements in posture, movement, and conditioning for the sport.
Within the volleyball world where I do a majority of my work I can count the number of coaches, in our area, that I would trust with my kids on one hand. If I also take into consideration the management of the entire long-term athlete development process that number is reduced to zero. This is not a knock on those coaches except to say that it takes more than one sport, and one coach, to develop a good, healthy athlete. Why can't we instead focus on developing physical education and long-term athlete development plans to vary the variables in development of the single-sport athlete instead of an often unrealistic plan of depending on another competitively focused sport to do so? We arbitrarily create these distinctions where we believe there is some magical formula used in another sport that helps to develop a great athlete when there is nothing magical there is simply sufficient variation in the tactics and physical work performed (energetics, mechanics, and coordination).