The Early Specialist a.k.a. The Part-Time Competitor
By: Sean Herrin, B.S.
Having grown up playing sports and also coaching athletes in a place where long harsh winters and dry hot summers are the norm (Montana), it was and still is very rare for a young athlete to only play one sport. However, in places where seasons seem to be non-existent and year round sunshine is the norm, it is very possible for young athletes to play one sport all year round i.e. soccer, baseball, and even football (7-on-7, flag leagues, etc…). After having moved from Montana to sunny Southern California, one observation is very clear: In Montana if you play only one sport, you are considered a part-time competitor whereas in southern California if you don’t know what sport you are going to be a professional at by the age of 15, you are the minority. My college football coach used to always say “the bar doesn’t compete back”, and therefore just simply training in the offseason of your sport is much less beneficial than going out and playing a sport and learning how to compete at something maybe you are not as comfortable with. I totally agree.
According to a Michigan State University study, each year 35 million kids register for organized youth sports, and by the age of thirteen 70% of them quit playing sports all together! The number one response as to why, you might ask? “it isn’t fun anymore”. Sports are meant to create competitiveness, to teach the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship, and most importantly to be FUN. Yet for some reason when kids reach middle school we switch gears and feel this need to have them become professionals by just concentrating on one sport. News flash, for every Tiger Woods, Sharapova, or Williams sister, there are thousands of kids who hate sports and blame their parents for all the pressures.
A great coach and professor of mine named Dr. Daniels often speaks of the surviving-egg theory when it comes to coaching. Every now and then, when you throw a basket of eggs against a concrete wall, you will sometimes find that a single egg or maybe two have survived unharmed. There are a lot of coaches out there who follow this model. Break them down as much as possible and see who is still standing when it’s over. Tiger and Venus may have escaped unharmed, but there are 25 million kids (70% of 35 million) whom by the age of 13 are completely broken down and want nothing to do with sports ever again. If in our every day lives we are told that putting all of your eggs into one basket isn’t a great idea (investing, only taking math classes in school, being one dimensional at work) then why are we asking our young athletes to do this with sports?
Therefore, it is vital to incorporate variable training into the regular training regimen of your youth athlete. This is important for preventing the monotony of what young kids may experience by playing the same sport year around. This also helps to prevent overuse injuries in athletes who are still growing and lack the stabilization muscles and overall fitness to prevent common injuries such as knee and shoulder tears. A combination of agility, speed, core training, and fun is the recipe to maintain your athletes passion for the sport as well as keeping them strong and inury free. If you want to learn more about how your athlete should be training in their offseason, or which sports would be very beneficial for them to try because of the carryover to their primary sport please feel free to visit Coach Sean Herrin at Champion’s Quest.