We are getting involved in a discussion between coaches and parents of young athletes on the topic of over-specialization and the impact of club programs on athletics. I am a CSCS and work with athletes as a trainer, not a pt. Just wondered if you could hit this topic on your blog. Thanks.Travis Knight, MEd, CSCS
I am always happy to comment on that topic. Those are two areas very dear to my heart. First of all I think a philosophical statement is in order – we must remember that this is about the youngster and his or her well being. Youth sports are not for the gratification of the adults involved. That is the crux of the problem to start with. Too many parents and coaches are trying to relive or revive their faded athletic careers through their children.
Perhaps the biggest change that I have seen in my 37 years in coaching is the move, now a stampede to overspecialization. It is as if the kid has not specialized in a sport by twelve years old they are doomed to failure. Actually the opposite is true, for every youngster who specializes and becomes a star (whatever that is) there are twenty who never play sports at all! I believe in all around development, build a complete athlete with a rich repertoire of motor skills and sport skills. There is no reason for a youngster not to play three sports, but the problem today is the club sport high school conflict that forces the kid to make a choice. Club seasons go on forever, soccer is year around, and basketball plays 8- 100 games, youth AAU baseball 120 games. Where does it stop? The argument is that the short high school season does not give the kids enough exposure. That is pure bull shitake. It worked for a 100 years, what has changed? What has changed is that we have too many people involved for their own self interests. Don’t kid yourselves these clubs make money. Meanwhile the poor coaches in the schools are scrounging to raise money to buy new uniforms. It is just symptomatic of the culture of excess that we live in.
As a former teacher and junior high school and high school coach I believe we need to get sport back in the control of the schools. We need to have qualified coaches who are trained as teachers, so they understand how to teach and know about growth and development. Forget the college scholarships. If you have talent there is a scholarship somewhere, especially for the girls. I recommend the youngsters play multiple sports until their junior or senior in high school. They if they figure out they are good enough and can specialize, then specialize. By that time they will have gotten very fit and skilled in a wide range of activities, then they are ready to pick a sport. I will give an example from my early teaching and coaching days. Terry Schroeder who went onto become the best water polo player in the world, played youth football, basketball, baseball and swam. He did not even play water polo until high school. Another example comes from my work in professional baseball. After the draft I would sit down and meet with each new player and interview them about their training and sports background. After a couple of years I found an interesting trend. The players who had played multiple sports started to pass the players who just had played baseball, which was true regardless of the position. Mike Cameron, currently with the San Diego Padres is an example. He played football, basketball and baseball all through high school. He started out in pro ball as a very good athlete and not a very good player. But his athleticism enabled him to be a very good baseball player. The player take number two in the baseball draft after Ken Griffey is an example of the opposite. He played nothing but baseball from the time he was little. He did nothing to develop his athleticism. He never made it, in fact he struggled because he did not have the athletic skills.
Enough of a rant and now some specific recommendations: Regulate the length of club seasons, especially under the age of 14. Limit summer leagues and passing leagues, instead have open gym. No parents involved. Coaches must be certified. Reinstitute mandatory physical education. The key to changing this trend is educated coaches who can teach and develop kids.