By Brian Freeland
Dean, School of Health Sciences at American Public University
Today’s sports landscape offers more opportunities than ever for young athletes to participate in year-round activities with offseason access to leagues, camps, clinics and training. So, should young athletes focus on one sport?
A variety of theories and philosophies exist regarding specializing in one sport. On one hand, some believe concentrating on training for one sport helps an athlete to develop and provides the best opportunity to participate in that sport at the collegiate or professional level. On the other hand, sport specialization can be associated with certain risks, such as overuse injuries, burnout, and fewer sport experiences.
To learn more about specialization, I reached out to four adjunct faculty members at American Public University who teach various courses in the sports management and sports and health sciences degree programs.
Dr. Bret Simmermacher has been coaching mostly basketball and baseball for 24 years at the high school, NJCAA Division I, and NCAA Division I and II levels. Dr. Simmermacher thinks specializing in one sport results in high school coaches placing high expectations on their players.
Dr. Simmermacher believes athletes should not specialize in a sport until they reach the college level. Parents and players must understand that specialization in a sport will not guarantee a scholarship or a professional athletic contract. Star athletes are often blessed with a special talent; they may have the ability to do their particular craft with ease and grace. Yes, some players become well-known pros, but that’s extremely uncommon.
Craig Wilsman has more than 20 years’ experience as a collegiate coach, mostly in men’s basketball. Craig believes specialization in one sport has become an obsession within our culture and is a driving force not just for the athletes, but also for many parents who are pushing them to achieve the highest levels possible.
Wilsman believes specialization should be reserved for elite athletes who are at the prime age for their professional sports. That age is an immoveable target because each sport is different. Contact sports have an older prime age since youth’s bones and muscles are not yet fully developed to sustain or to produce a full blow to the body.
Scott Johnson has been coaching baseball for 21 years at the high school and college level. He has also coached baseball, football, softball, wrestling, volleyball and basketball. Johnson feels when children specialize too early they lack the opportunity to try another sport or to develop skills that may help them be successful in the sport that they are really good at. Children should try every sport during their elementary and middle school years; when allowed to play everything, most become better athletes. This approach also avoids two major risks of sports specialization: over training and burnout.
Dr. Tim Rice has coached for more than 20 years, coaching basketball, golf, cross-country, and soccer at the college level and basketball and track & field at the high school level. Rice thinks some sports have early specialization requirements due to the nature of the sport (gymnastics, for instance). However, he believes most team sports should have later specialization (if any), as many of the concepts are just not able to be learned correctly until a person is older. It is important for young athletes and their parents to understand that playing multiple sports provides a chance to become more athletically diverse and helps them to understand where they want to specialize.
In summary, young athletes and their parents should be aware that specializing in a sport at a young age runs the risk of burning out the athlete, and losing out on the important social and physical development opportunities offered through participation in multiple sports.
American Public University offers respected online degree programs designed for coaches, athletic directors, sports management, and sports and health sciences professionals. These dynamic programs are taught by industry professionals and experienced educators in the areas of coaching studies, coaching theory and strategy, sports event management, sports marketing, promotions and public relations, sports law, risk and regulation, ethics in sports, high school and collegiate sports administration, and more.
Sports and Health Sciences, Athletic Administration and Coaching Program Highlights Include:
- Students enrolled in the Bachelor’s of Sports and Health Sciences online degree program can earn their American Sport Education Program (ASEP) Bronze Level Certification. Students enrolled in the Master’s in Sports Management online degree program can earn their ASEP certification in Coaching Principles. ASEP details at http://StudyatAPU.com/coaching
- APU and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) have joined forces so that courses completed from your master’s degree can directly apply towards earning either NIAAA Registered Athletic Administrator or NIAAA Certified Athletic Administrator Certifications. http://StudyatAPU.com/NIAAA
- APU is proud to be a Positive Coaching Alliance Trusted Resource. http://StudyatAPU.com/pca
- APU’s fully-online B.S. in Sports and Health Sciences program is aligned with the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT) certification to prepare students for the NASM-CPT exam. At the graduate level, APU’s M.S. in Sports and Health Sciences program aligns with the NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist (NASM-PES) credential. NASM Details at http://StudyatAPU.com/NASM