The general public rarely allows the science of sports to interfere with their deeply held beliefs, even when the beliefs are more of a myth than reality. When I coached basketball in Ireland, young Irish players believed that the greatness of basketball was not in their genes. They said the Irish weren’t supposed to be great athletes. Meanwhile, the Irish rugby team crushed their opponents in their preparation for the 2007 World Cup, where some pundits ranked Ireland as co-favorite with the All Blacks. While basketball and rugby are different sports requiring different skills, each features fast, fast, agile, strong and coordinated athletes. If Ireland produces world-class rugby talent with these athleticism, why do Irish basketball players think this development is beyond their gene pool?
Few people see rugby and basketball in terms of athleticism, so few see the similarities. The same goes for sports in the United States. Many coaches and parents do not see the athletic similarities between sports: people see basketball as a sport for tall people who can shoot; rugby as an aggressive physical sport; and volleyball as a non-contact sport with different ball skills than other sports. We miss the athletic similarities, which hamper our overall athletic development.
Because we view sport in sport-specific terms, coaches encourage players to specialize at an earlier and earlier age. Some basketball coaches dislike players who play volleyball because they see no advantage and feel like they are falling behind their teammates while “wasting time” playing volleyball . However, volleyball and basketball require lateral movements, hand-eye coordination, ball skills and vertical jump. There is a transfer between blocking a ball and challenging a shot, between lateral displacement for a search, and lateral displacement to prevent penetration of an attacking player.
As youth sports become more competitive, more and more young athletes are rushing to specialize. They listen to their coach’s advice or follow their parents’ advice as parents try to give their child an edge over the competition. Early specialization – when an athlete plays a sport all year round to the exclusion of other sports before puberty – leads to immediate improvements in sport-specific skills. Coaches and parents see immediate results and go this route. If the most gifted 10-year-old plays basketball all year round, maybe my son or daughter needs to spend 12 months a year playing basketball. However, athletic development is a process, and the development of sport specific skills is only one piece.
People encourage early specialization because of the immediate sport-specific performance gains and ignore research that cautions against early specialization. As Alan Launder writes in Play practice:
“In 1985, a study by the Swedish Tennis Association suggested that early specialization is not necessary for players to achieve high performance levels in tennis. Among other things, this study found that players who were part of the Swedish tennis ‘miracle’ of the 1980s, including the great Bjorn Borg, were very active in a range of sports until the age of 14 and only began to specialize around the age 16. “
Before you can be great at any sport, you must first be an athlete, and early specialization hinders overall athletic development. However, as with Irish players, we view sports on the basis of sport-specific skills, not athleticism. We ignore examples like Chase Budinger and Wes Welker. Budinger, of the University of Arizona, was an elite high school volleyball player. University of Arizona head coach Lute Olson believes Budinger has the athleticism to be a great defensive player because of his volleyball background. Welker has played football throughout his high school career and his former football coach Mike Leach of Texas Tech University credits football for Welker’s speed and vision, which makes him almost unstoppable as a machine receiver. slot for the New England Patriots.
In recent years, sports training facilities have multiplied. While these facilities fulfill parents’ dreams in the big league, a big part of their success is in developing general athletic skills that athletes fail to develop naturally because they specialize and reduce their athletic development. Rather than playing multiple sports, which train multiple skills, athletes specialize in one sport and use performance training to compensate for their narrow athletic development.
Children used to develop these athletic skills by playing several sports and neighborhood games. Young children played tag. As speed expert Lee Taft puts it, “Tag is perhaps the greatest game ever invented … There is linear speed, lateral speed, angular takeoffs, recoil, dodging skills, cuts, direction changes, simulation skills, decomposition skills, achieve skills, body control skills, balance, flexibility, coordination, raising and lowering the center of gravity , setting up opponents, strategies, teamwork … Basically the tag will force you to dive deep into the bag of moves your body has stored, or better yet, not stored and requires you to use it or learn it. “
Now, instead of playing tag on the street, kids go to facilities where they practice agility drills so they can change direction, simulate, escape and cut while playing basketball, soccer or football. . We impose professional training environments on children before puberty and ignore their different developmental needs. In the Swedish study, “what was most significant was that many players who had outperformed the eventual elite while in the 12-14 age group had dropped out of the sport” (Launder).
Sports development is a process and early specialization tries to speed up the process. However, what is the point? Is the goal to dominate at 10 years? Early specialization leads to early peaks. Players improve their sport-specific skills faster than those who participate in a wide range of activities. However, those who develop deeper and wider athletic skills have a better foundation when they eventually specialize. While those who specialize early hit a plateau, the rest improve by spending more time improving their sport-specific skills.
If one specializes in basketball at age 10, his general athletic development is incomplete. While he likely improves his dribbling, shooting, and understanding of the game faster than his peers who play multiple sports, those who play multiple sports develop many other athletic skills. If others play soccer, they improve their vision, agility, footwork and more; if they play soccer they develop different skills depending on the position, but probably improve acceleration and power. When these athletes specialize in basketball at the age of 15, they have broader athletic skills and have an advantage over the player who specializes early and who is likely to plateau in their skill development.
Skills – from athletics to tactics to perception – transfer from sport to sport. Many coaches and parents insist that there is no relationship between sports, which gives more credit to early specialization. However, before a person is good at a sport, they must first be an athlete. The more developed a player’s general athletic skills, the higher the player’s cap in their chosen sport. While the general public is slow to accept these ideas, sports science research argues that specialization before puberty is completely unnecessary and in some cases undermines an athlete’s long-term success. If the goal is to dominate other 10-year-olds, specialize early. However, if the goal is to nurture healthy children and give them the opportunity to participate in high school and / or college level sports, playing multiple sports offers a child more development than early specialization.