Five things to know about sports specialization


The following article is part of a content partnership with TrueSport, a positive youth sports movement powered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). TrueSport has partnered with over 20 sports NGBs to promote a positive youth sports culture with expert content and programming.

For parents and coaches, the temptation to push an athlete to specialize in a single sport is tempting, even at a young age. Stories of athletes like Tiger Woods, who focused intensely on golf from early childhood, lend credence to the idea that the only way kids can succeed in sports is to laser-focus on an activity. singular.

But there are many other great athletes who maintained their participation in multiple sports throughout high school. In fact, research shows that early specialization is unnecessary and can actually harm athletes and their performance. Now, many college coaches even prefer athletes who have competed in multiple sports.

Michele LaBotz, a TrueSport expert and sports physician, shares five tips parents and coaches should know about sports specialization, especially in young athletes.

Sampling different sports improves athleticism

Participating in a variety of sports actually increases a child’s ability to move, which will be beneficial as they progress in a given sport.

“The more pathways the body creates between the brain and the muscles, the more it improves the athlete’s ability to move in different ways,” LaBotz said. “At a young age, it’s best to consider the opposite of sport specialization, which is sport sampling, where an athlete tries a bunch of different sports and activities.”

Sports Sampling Creates Lifetime Athletes

Research has found that healthy levels of physical activity are largely determined by family activity habits. Also, most young athletes will not end up pursuing their sport professionally, but will hopefully remain healthy, active human beings for the rest of their lives.

“Climbing, mountain biking, paddleboarding…there are many great sports and activities that are considered lifestyle sports rather than high performance team sports, but they can be so important and useful for the athletic development in children and adolescents,” LaBotz said. “For example, the balance and agility children develop with things like skateboarding and surfing provide a good foundation for more sport-specific skills. family trips, not just dropping the kids off at the soccer field.”

General skills improve specific performance

Ultimately, playing a wide variety of sports is not only healthy for a young athlete, but it will also help them develop their skills in whatever sport they ultimately decide to focus on. The mental benefits of playing different types of sports, especially trying individual sports in addition to team sports, can contribute significantly to development.

“It’s a mistake that you have to develop these highly specialized skills early in life,” LaBotz said. “Instead, the focus should be on developing different core, foundational skills and sampling enough sports that you can confidently decide where your passions lie.”

LaBotz says she often hears parents say they don’t want to interfere with healthy activity and their child’s love of a specific sport. In response, she says, “I’m making a comparison with other healthy behaviors. For example, carrots are healthy, and if a child likes carrots, that’s fine and should be encouraged. But if your child only eats carrots, it’s not good. They need more variety in their diet. The same goes for physical activity: variety is key and too much of a good thing is not a good thing. »

Athletes specializing in high-risk injuries

“Many athletes, coaches and parents believe that athletes need to specialize to become better, but athletes who specialize at a young age are more injury prone and more likely to drop out of sport,” LaBotz said. (

Focusing on a particular sport at an early age can create imbalances, and the risk of injury and overtraining is minimized when athletes try sports that emphasize different types of movement, such as some sports that focus on the upper body (for example, throwing or racquet sports). ) and others more focused on the lower body (e.g. soccer or other running sports).

Additionally, athletes who specialize early often end up with sport-specific body image standards, rather than developing an appreciation for all that their body can do athletically, which can lead to performance issues. body image and eating disorders.

Athletes can change their minds

While your 12-year-old might love gymnastics right now, that fact might not be true five years from now. Instead, at age 17, your athlete may decide that soccer or triathlon is more interesting.

“Long-term success in sports is more likely when parents can help build their child’s ability and opportunity to learn many different sports and activities,” LaBotz said. “That way the athlete can determine where their talents and passions lie. If you start specializing in basketball at age nine, you may never learn that you could have been a tennis champion. .


For young children, participation in a variety of sporting activities and experiences is beneficial for the long-term development of athletic skills. It also offers athletes the opportunity to determine which sports are best for them. Early sport specialization may seem important for sport skill development, but engaging in a variety of individual and team sports can lead to a happier, healthier athlete.

About True Sport

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values ​​of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values ​​and life lessons learned through youth sport. True Sport inspires athletes, coaches, parents and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and a thoughtful program based on fundamental lessons in sportsmanship, character building and clean performance and healthy, while creating leaders in all communities through sport. For more articles and expert materials, visit TrueSport’s full site LEARN the resource.


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