When is specialization not so “special”?

Posted On: 12/31/15 1:13 PM

In the ultra competitive world of prep sports, it has become increasingly difficult for young athletes to participate in more than one extra curricular activity competitively. Whether it is off-season training, leagues, camps, showcases, or combines, virtually every major sport has opportunities to gain a “competitive edge” every month of the year. We now see ad campaigns plastered with the notion of “No Off-Season” and “No Days-Off”. While I am a huge proponent of sharpening your craft every day, I’ve spent some time digging deeper into this concept of extreme specialization, its benefits, and its detriments.

Pros

Mastery

Any time we focus on something every day, we have a higher likelihood of mastering the craft. By setting “hobby” activities to the side and focusing on one sport year round, the likelihood of innate mastery increases.

Limit “non-core” injuries

By only participating in the sport you are pursuing long term, you eliminate the possibilities of getting hurt while playing a sport that you aren’t as serious about.

More skin the in the game

When we make sacrifices, whether they be social, financial, or in this case, athletic, it increases the pride we take in the cause we sacrificed for. These sacrifices makes us work that much harder to protect what we’ve worked for.

Easier schedule management

By focusing in on one sport, you eliminate scheduling conflicts posed by other extra curricular activities.

Show college coaches your dedication

Some college coaches are attracted to recruits that solely focus on their sport.

Cons

Miss chances to play different roles

Where you may be one of the best players with a leadership position on the basketball team, you may be more of a role player on the soccer team. The best leaders know how to follow.

Lose opportunities to “be a kid”

Athletics provide some of the most memorable experiences and relationships in high school. By specializing in one sport, you miss out on all the practices, bus rides, pasta dinners, and interpersonal experiences that go along with being on a team.

Risk of Burning Out

Any time you focus your energy on one task without variety, you run the risk of burning yourself out.

Lack Dynamic Diversity

Each different sport requires different dynamic movements. Many of the best athletes start out in tumbling, gymnastics, and even ballet. By sticking to one sport, you limit your body’s ability to learn new movements.

Some Colleges Prefer the Dual Sports

Counteracting the argument above, there are college coaches who value athletes that participate in more than one sport.

Conclusion

With all the pros/cons considered, there are a few factors that should determine whether or not you should specialize in your sport:

1. If you have no chance of playing at all, you shouldn’t play that sport.

For athletes that excel in one sport, it is a waste of time to sit on the bench in another sport just for the experience. If you are going to play multiple sports, you should be in the rotation for your secondary athletic teams.

2. The second you commit to a scholarship level school, you should move to specialization.

Division 1 schools don’t want to have to worry about their recruit blowing out their ACL practicing another sport that they have no interest playing at the next level. This is especially true once you have committed to a Division 1 or Division 2 school. Any time your college is being fully covered by an athletic program, I strongly recommend specialization.

* This does not apply to athletes who are being recruited at the Division 1 level for multiple sports and are undecided about which they want to play in college.

3. For basketball players, spring sports are much more difficult to balance than fall sports

With the continued growth of grassroots basketball from March-August, the ability for athletes to balance a spring sport has become increasingly difficult. If you are pursuing scholarship level basketball, you will need to work closely with your spring sport coach to create a schedule that is manageable and realistic for both sides.

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