Sports specialisation or early specialisation, refers to intense and very specific focus on one sport from a young age. Normally, the reason or thought behind this is that by limiting other activities, more time can be spent on one sport and achieving success within it. However, there is growing concern that this does not necessarily create better athletes. In fact, there are suggestions that sports specialisation can negatively affect both physical and mental well being. So, it begs the question, is it really worth it?
What is Sports Specialisation?
In order to succeed, young athletes commonly need to find themselves within an academy or high performance group. This exposes them to a high level of performance along side high level coaching. Because of this, single sport participation would appear to give any athlete the best chance of being selected or making it into one of these groups.
Issues with Early Sports Specialisation
Ultimately, kids enjoy playing certain sports! Despite this, highly focused training can often lead to excessive physical and mental stress. While these may be tolerable at first, years of specific training can have huge effects on mental health.
In order to perform at an elite level, you are always going to be pushing the limit of performance. A common concern with this, particularly in youth athletes is overuse. Early specialisation can lead to overtraining, chronic fatigue and overuse injuries. In addition, Technical and tactical errors will begin to become common when athletes are fatigued, which can further drive psychological issues.
The medical condition known as the female triad is also linked with early specialisation. This refers to the combination of insufficient energy intake, menstrual cycle function and a decrease in bone density.
While I have talked about the negatives, there are a number of ways you can avoid the dangers of specialisation. Broadening exposure to different sports, games and types of movement help improve physical literacy. Approaching development from a long term perspective can avoid many overuse injuries, burnout and total drop out. Increasing the amount of “deliberate play” youth athletes can improve physical, psychological and social aspects of their life. This also allows athletes to switch from purely focusing on winning, toward skill development and the enjoyment of sport. The most obvious form of deliberate play, is literally heading out to play games with their friends!
As a parent, guardian or coach is it our responsibility to ensure our children are happy and healthy. If we can achieve this, we can then focus on specific performance. As Leading Youth Strength and Conditioning Coaches we have found our sessions with young athletes to be the perfect place to explore movement. The use of games, obstacle courses and problem solving challenges develop the chance to learn. Learning and playing allow athletes to challenge themselves in different ways and learn new skills. These skills will allow them to problem solve and adapt faster when it comes to their “main” sport.
If you would like to learn more about our coaches and Personal Trainers in Berkshire, please get in touch. We will be happy to sit down and discuss any aspect of developing your child/children’s performance. However, we will always do everything we can to expose them to the broadest selection of challenges we can. Developing physical literacy will always we near, if not top of the list.