Sport Specialization vs.
Multi-sports for Children

While sport participation offers many benefits for children, sport specialization year round can be detrimental for young athletes.  Risks include overtraining and a lack of balance in the lives of young people under 15, and these risks affect their physical, psychological, and social development.

Using intense and specialized sport participation as a strategy to win championships and scholarships is counterproductive because it frequently causes burnout and undermines overall personal development throughout childhood and adolescence.

When children specialize in a single sport year-round and train intensely, families become deeply connected to team cultures.  Parents invest a time, money, and effort into resources to support their child's training.  This results in limitations for their child, limiting the diversity of their physical activities, experience, and relationships with other athletes and coaches.

The motivation to achieve excellence is highest when young people have experiences in multiple sports and can make informed choices about the sports in which they want to specialize during adolescence. 

Multiple Sport Participation vs Sport Specialization

The most important findings from research on psychological and social development suggest that multiple physical activities:

  • Build self-esteem,
  • Develop mastery of a variety of activities,
  • Increase experiences with peers and authority figures,
  • Prevent burnout 
  • Promote intrinsic motivation that sustains long-term sport participation.

When young people participate regularly in informal games and sports, they are less likely to drop out of organized sport programs than their peers who specialize in a single sport from a young age. 

Elite athlete development and lifelong motivation to play sports is promoted most effectively when young people play informal games during childhood and also play multiple sports until age 15. 

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that parents, teachers and coaches: 

  • Encourage young people to try a range of sports and experiences.
  • Evaluate youth sports programs in terms of how effectively they produce positive self- esteem, self-efficacy, and perceptions of competence among young people. 
  • Reduce burnout, boredom, and dropping out from sports, and maximize the probability of personal development and success in a chosen sport by discouraging specialization in one sport until a young person can make a fully informed decision, usually at about age 15.

For more on Sport Specialization, check out this article by Dr. Chris Stankovich published on the National Federation of High Schools' Coaching Today website.

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