If you have read muWise-to-Specialize-eBook-cover-webch of what gets written on the CFC blog, you won’t be surprised to learn that our strong position is thatfar too often, sports programs for children are designed to meet the needs of adults at the expense of the very children they are supposed to be serving.  We’re certainly not alone in that belief, and today we take a look at the growing trend toward athlete specialization.

In our part of the world, it’s not uncommon to hear parents talk about their 9-12 year old children focusing on a single sport.  Baseball/softball, soccer, and basketball are the ones I’ve heard most often, and I know it’s happening in other sports as well.  Could this be a good thing in some ways?  Sure.  Can it be harmful and dangerous?  Absolutely.  Take a look at these quotes from three different articles, which are also linked below.

1.  Talking about a young athlete who is a big fan of his specialized, travel team experience:

He recalls playing in a rec league where they didn’t even keep score. “It’s frustrating when you’re trying your hardest and the other kids on your team are making bad passes and not taking it seriously. In travel soccer, it’s more intense — everybody wants to win.”  – from ESPN.com

(My question is why are those the only two alternatives:  a league where they don’t keep score or a team that travels all over the country with players who only play one sport?  And it’s funny because the title of the article is “The Kids Are Alright”, which would seem to suggest that the specialization is A-OK, but the flavor of the article actually seems to argue the opposite.  You can decide for yourself.)

2.  So many parents I meet are extremely frustrated these days, because youth sports has changed so much since their childhood. There are no longer seasons, just year-long commitments for kids. The costs and travel distances have gone through the roof. And the pressure on parents to keep up with the Jones’s has become astronomical.  – John McCarthy and the Changing the Game Project

3.  An article about John Smoltz’s recent Baseball Hall of Fame induction:

Smoltz — a two-sport star in high school — underwent Tommy John surgery as a Major League pitcher in 2000, before moving from a starter to reliever. But the revolutionary surgery is becoming more and more prominent in young players. Smoltz told parents and youth coaches not to over-work kids and let them know single-sport specialization isn’t the way.

“I’ve been given an opportunity as one of the only players, the only one right now, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Tommy John surgery,” Smoltz said. “It’s an epidemic. It’s something that is affecting our game. It’s something that I thought would cost me my career, but thanks to Dr. James Andrews and all those before him, performing the surgery with such precision has caused it to be almost a false-read, like a band-aid you put on your arm.

“I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time. Baseball is not a year-round sport. You have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don’t let the institutions that are out there before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses (convince you) this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game, that it’s a shame we’re having one and two and three Tommy John recipients.”


There’s plenty to think about here for both Coaches and parents, and we must not be afraid to ask tough questions that we might not like the answers to.  The question I keep asking is if our programs exist to serve children, and so many of us feel they fail to do so, why does the trend continue?