A female soccer player recently said that her club coach told her she would have to give up other sports if she wanted to stay on the nearly year-round club soccer team. He went on to say that she would have little chance to play soccer at the college level if she didn't put all her energy into this one sport. She's 11-years-old.
Does that sound like an isolated case? Unfortunately not.
Coaches who pressure players to concentrate on only one sport (the coach's sport, of course) are not only being selfish, but are exposing their players to danger. Experts in sports medicine say specializing in one sport during adolescence can lead to serious injuries. They are seeing overuse injuries at earlier ages than in previous generations.
According to orthopedic surgeon Champ L. Baker, Jr. of Columbus, Georgia, "In nearly every youth sport across the board, kids are being pushed harder and longer to succeed at a level that is not compatible with their growth and development."
Baker and other experts believe that youth and adolescent athletes need to play different sports in order to develop different and opposing muscle groups, and that it is crucial--not only for proper strength and motor learning development--but to prevent injuries. That's why, even if athletes love their sport - eat, drink and live their sport, as one mother puts it - and don't want to do anything else, they should be encouraged to cross-train and engage in other forms of physical activity. At the very least they should take weeks or even a month off at a time occasionally to give their bodies a break.
Burnout also occurs more frequently when only one sport is played year round. By changing sports every season or several times during the year, kids have the challenge of learning and practicing each sport, using different muscles and skills, meeting new friends, experiencing a variety of coaching styles, plus having fun. Where's the fun in being pressured to play only one sport?
Coaches who concentrate on the well-being of their young athletes encourage them to cross-train and enjoy other activities during parts of the year rather than threaten them with the loss of a place on the team if they don't drop other sports.
Youth athletes who feel pressured by their coach to specialize in a single sport should tell their parents how they feel. Even if that athlete is passionate about a sport, the attitude displayed by the coach of that 11-year-old soccer player shows he's more interested in developing a winning team for his own benefit than in creating a positive, healthy and fun experience for his players.
Penny Hastings is the author of two books on youth sports, How To Win A Sports Scholarship (3rd ed.) and Sports for Her, A Reference Guide for Teenage Girls. She has written for numerous print and online publications about youth, teen and college sports, sports scholarships, girls' and women's sports, fitness and health issues. To purchase her books, visit her website at www.winasportsscholarship.com.