Early Sports Specialisation vs Diversification in Youth Athletes at a glance
A big difference between the current youth sporting experience and the experiences youth had 20 years ago is the rise of year round sporting opportunities offered by sporting codes. Some codes ask or even require players to participate in summer and winter seasons in order to stay in incentivised teams and development squads. Hence, sports specialisation in early to middle childhood has become increasingly common.
What is specialisation in youth sport?
Sports specialisation is intense training in one sport while excluding others.
Concerns for specialisation
There is a concern that sports specialisation before adolescence may be harmful to a young athlete. These concerns include:
1. Interferes with children’s motor development
Structured practice of a specific sport from an early age can impact a child’s gross motor development as they aren’t able to develop a range of important motor skills. (eg. hand-eye coordination, jumping, throwing, hopping, balancing and running. )
2. Growth and injury risks
Young athletes are still growing. Constant changes in body weight, height and
muscle mass provide additional stress to joints and connective tissue. If a growing child is exposed to the same repetitive motion they have higher risk of overuse and stress injuries.
Early specialisation has been shown not only to be physically difficult but mentally tough which can sometimes result in withdrawal form the sport.
4. Does not guarantee future athletic success
What is diversification in youth sport?
Sport diversification can be thought of as playing variety of different sports throughout childhood.
Benefits for sport diversification
Current research by the International Olympic Committee supports exposing children to different sporting codes and physical experiences throughout their childhood.
1. Motor skill development
Children have the opportunity to practice a variety of fundamental motor skills and acquire these skills quicker. For example, instead of only developing hand-eye coordination as it pertains to hitting in tennis a child playing tennis and football can also develop foot-eye coordination.
2. Reduce injury risk
Participating in different sports reduces repetitive stress to growing joints and connective tissue and can reduce risk of overuse and stress injuries.
3. Transfer of skills between sports
Cognitive skills: It has been suggested that players who play multiple sports have the ability to apply diverse sporting tactics to different games and have greater understanding of player movement.
Physical skills: practice on one activity can result in improvements on another activity.
Provides an environment that may nurture a genuine love for a sport.
When is the appropriate time for children to choose one sport to play?
It has been suggested children who participate in a variety of sports and should delay specialising until late adolescence. With considerations to:
- The child having developed their fundamental motor skills, for example skills such as running, jumping, kicking and throwing.
- The child having the sport-related fundamental motor skills, sport-specific knowledge, motivation, and social skills.
- It should be the athlete’s choice to specialise.
Encourage children to participate in a variety of different age-appropriate sport-related activities and settings.
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