In recent literature, there has been a flurry of articles and interest in avoiding early sports specialization in young athletes, or what I call “The Little League Syndrome.” It seems that baseball has more and more year-round participation that leads to injury…Tommy Johns is not supposed to occur in a 15 year old. Getting young athletes the proper strength and performance training should help avoid these injuries.
A few of my thoughts on these issues:
Why not specialize in one sport?
Last week I ran into a parent outside the gym who saw my “Athlete’s Arena” T-shirt who mentioned that they had a 9 year old and an 11 year old who played soccer year round and wanted to know what they needed to do to get them faster. My response? “Put them in swimming lessons, and/or get them in another sport!” Why?
Research has shown early specialization will lead to injury, burn out and immature movement patterns in young athletes.
Why does early specialization happen so much?
There are a couple of reasons, I believe. Reason one is there is often the illusion of “making it big” or being that 1 kid out of 100 that gets a college scholarship.
Another reason is the fact that many “club” programs (and even high school programs) have turned into a “BUSINESS” without taking into consideration what is best for the athlete and their safety. Coaches, with some exceptions, will look out for their own interests and not those of the athlete.
How early specialization is damaging to our young athletes
“Putting the Cart Before the Horse” in the weight room. Many of our athletes are being put “under load” or forced to do movements with weights they have no business doing!! Many of our kids are being asked to do heavy power cleans, squats and bench presses before they are even taught how to do the movement without weight. This leads to injury, improper movement pattern, and worsens injuries caused by repetitive movements. Would you ask a newborn to run before they can even stand or walk?
In addition, the lack of a screening process for our young athletes also causes the increased rate of injury. All kids have a physical before they are cleared to play sports, but what about a movement screen to identify risks of injury or inappropriate movement patterns as an athlete? Every kid at Athlete’s Arena must go through a movements screen before they are allowed to participate in a performance program.