In the past, most young athletes were encouraged to play multiple sports in order to develop better overall athletic ability. However, youth sports has changed drastically, seasons are longer and kids are encouraged to compete in year-round leagues in hope of reaching elite status at a younger age. Parents and coaches hear stories of Michelle Wie and the Williams sisters, and how they were holding a golf club and swinging a racquet while still in diapers, and figure the key to athletic success MUST be specializing at a young age. However, the medical community, trainers and many high profile athletes are arguing that this trend may be detrimental to the development of young athletes. Unfortunately, a lot of the support for and against early specialization has been anecdotal. Only recently have researchers started to look at the short and long term effects of this new trend. Continue reading below in order to gain a better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of early sport specialization.

Research proven benefits of early sport specialization:

  • Better coaching and skill instruction;
  • Better skill development through deliberate practice

Unsupported reasons athletes specialize early:

  • To gain a competitive edge;
  • To master skills faster;
  • Early talent recognition;
  • Increased opportunity for scholarships/professional contracts;
  • Fear of falling behind

Research proven disadvantages of early sport specialization:

  • Athletes develop a significantly higher number of acute and overuse injuries;
  • Loss of time, money and missed educational opportunities;
  • Athlete burnout, anxiety and decreased enjoyment;
  • Inhibition of proper physical development;
  • Overtraining – year-long training often overlooks proper recovery;
  • Breakdown of family structure due to time, money and sacrifices of the whole family.</