Is early specialization helpful or harmful?

Is early sports specialization harmful? Sports educator and professional athlete John O'Sullivan shares great information about knowing if sports specialization is right for you child.
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Is early specialization helpful or harmful?

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Today, in the United States, we have this massive push in new sports to get kids to do more and more at younger and younger ages. Aside from sports such as female gymnastics and figure skating and many things like dance where those athletes actually hit their athletic peak in their teen years, most sports including all team sports, athletes don’t hit their peak until they are 20s. So, this idea that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell of doing 10,000 hours and now people are charting out those exact hours from very young ages, it’s just not true. It’s a myth. There are so many athletes who have made in Olympics after 15,000 hours because focusing on solely 10,000 hours puts all the eggs in the basket of practice. But so many things go into sport performance: Genetics, psychology, sociology, the coaching they get, your kid’s drive to practice and do more. So, what I recommend to parents is look at the research because the medical research says kids who specialize at a very young age are 70% to 90% more likely to be injured than kids who play multiple sports. The psychology says that they’re more likely to quit and burn out and drop out. There is no evidence out there in any sport that says by putting in all those hours early in any team sport, that gives you a better chance of making it as a pro. What I recommend to parents is instead of the early specialization path, if you can help your kid on what we call the early engagement path, an engagement where specialization is practice in adult centered organize environment. Engagement is a child centered play environment which increases enjoyment, increases intrinsic motivation, and the best athletes be they hockey players or soccer players from around the world, they don’t come from specialization environments. They come from early engagement. The Messi’s, the Neymar’s, the Ronaldo’s, the Gretzky’s, they just played as kids and they played far more than they practice and that’s where they got the skills to eventually, when they started practicing a lot, get to the next level.

Is early sports specialization harmful? Sports educator and professional athlete John O'Sullivan shares great information about knowing if sports specialization is right for you child.

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John O'Sullivan

Founder of Changing The Game Project

John O’Sullivan founded the Changing the Game Project in 2012 in order to help parents, coaches and youth sports organizations create a more child-centered sports experience for our young athletes. John is a former collegiate and professional player, and worked for 20 years on the youth, high school and college level as a coach and club Technical Director. He holds a USSF A License, NSCAA Advanced National Diploma, and a US Youth Soccer National License. His blog is now one of the most popular youth sports websites in the US, and he has been a featured presenter at TEDx Bend Oregon, IMG Academy, and this week at the NSCAA Convention. The Changing the Game Project provides live and online parent and coaching education workshops, webinars, and consulting services.

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