By Joe Haefner

Specialization in youth sports is a common issue that many parents and coaches face today.

You certainly want what is best for your child. You’re also afraid that if you don’t specialize with your child, they will get left behind.

There are probably hundreds of questions circling your mind?

  • Will specialization give my child an advantage?
  • Will specialization cause burnout?
  • Does specialization help my child develop as an athlete? Or are there other options?
  • What sports should my child specialize in? Are there any?
  • At what age should specialization occur? 3rd Grade? 7th Grade? High School? College? Never?
  • Will this affect them in a positive or negative away emotionally as child and an adult?
  • How do I know if my child wants to specialize?
  • What if my child wants to specialize now? Will they burnout later?
  • Does specialization cause more injuries?
  • Socially, will it hurt my child if they don’t specialize?
  • What if specialization keeps my child out of trouble?
  • What is going spark motivation in my child to excel at sports?

I recently came across a research paper that does a very good job of citing studies and addressing many concerns regarding specializing.

If you’re serious about a healthy, physical and emotional development of your child, this is a must-read. There is only 4 pages of reading.



Here are a few key points in the article:

In “Adult Peak” (late specialization) sports (e.g., baseball, basketball, and track and field), specialization in childhood is not an essential antecedent for exceptional sport performance as an adult.(Hill, 1993)

For clarification, baseball, basketball, and track and field are not the only adult peak sports. They are just examples.

Little research exists to document the physiological effects of highly specialized, sport-specific training compared with diversified sport training. Considering the research that does exist, there is little direct evidence to suggest the endocrine, muscular, nervous, and cardiovascular systems benefit from early specialization. (Kaleth & Mikesky, 2010)

When athletes specialize, they may be more susceptible to specific overuse injuries. Excessive stress on ligaments and joints can result in long-term, and perhaps permanent, damage in children and adolescents (Baker, Cobley, & Fraser-Thomas, 2009).

Evidence suggest specializers experience higher levels of emotional exhaustion (Stracchan, Cote, & Deakin, 2009). Emotional exhaustion is reported to be a subcomponent of athlete burnout (Gould, 2010).

Also, I am biased on this topic, so please read the paper to make your own conclusion.

The bottom line is… what is best for your child emotionally, physically, and socially… Every situation is different and you need to make the best, educated decision that you can.

What are your thoughts and experiences?