If you think your son or daughter is getting a jump on the competition by getting serious early with just one sport, you may be interested in what the research has to say about this. Kids who are prematurely pressured into dumping all of their other sports so that they can better concentrate on their main one are more prone to performance problems; have a higher drop-out and burn-out rate; and are more vulnerable to injury than those kids who continue to play other sports into their early teen years.
In addition, kids who are allowed to play a number of sports early on generally have much longer athletic careers in their chosen sport than their counterparts who specialized at an early age. So many people mistakenly believe that unless you specialize early, it will seriously stunt your development as an elite athlete. This myth is probably only true in sports like gymnastics and figure skating. In almost all other sports however, it’s been found that playing a lot of sports early on does not negatively affect an athlete’s ability to attain an elite status.
Why? The reason for this is that in many sports like basketball, baseball, ice hockey, tennis, etc. elite status is not reached until after the athlete has fully matured. The sad part about this is that so many younger athletes are completely turned off to their sport because they have failed to measure up (according to coaches and parents) performance-wise before puberty. What this means is that potentially talented kids are prematurely being turned away from participating because they’ve been told that they’re not “good enough.” It’s a different story in a sport like gymnastics or figure skating because an athlete usually attains elite status in these sports before puberty and full maturation.
The research in the field of applied sports psychology also indicates that early diversification in sports actually helps kids learn and grow socially, psychologically and physically. Playing a few different sports early on without the external pressure to improve, excel and win actually strengthens kids’ motivation to play and excel in the long run.
You should encourage your children to make a decision when they are 13 -14 about whether they want to begin to specialize in just one sport. It’s around this age that achieving a certain level of excellence depends upon an increase in time and energy. However, some kids would rather continue to play a number of sports recreationally and just for fun. In either case, the decision should be totally theirs!