1 Basket & Too many eggs

1 Basket & Too many eggs

During the offseason, the NFLPA and NFL offers various externships and continuing education opportunities for the players. I’ve been to a few and this year I decided to attend the NFL’s Sports Journalism Bootcamp hosted by Bowling Green State University. After our first day sessions we had the opportunity to have dinner with the instructors.  Getting to know each other, we all shared in a friendly conversation about our careers, the bootcamp and our families.  

Jason Romano, who works for ESPN and was at the bootcamp as an instructor, was proudly talking about his daughter being the only sixth grader to make her softball team. But before he could continue, another instructor, Kelly Taylor, asked, “When did she start specializing in softball?” I’m glad she was zeroed in on Jason, because I know I rolled my eyes and my face was screaming, what type of question is that, specializing?  Jason’s daughter is only in the sixth grade!  I took a brief pause, reminding myself that Kelly was asking an honest question, and then I realized that specialization, which is limiting a child to one sport, is a real issue in youth sports.

There are many reasons why a parent might push their child to specialize in one sport, but the main reason is to hopefully earn a free college education and ultimately make it to the professional ranks. As a father of four, I understand parents’ eagerness for their sons or daughters to earn athletic scholarships and attend college for free.  Living in a time when a four-year tuition can cost hundred of thousands of dollars, the thought of a free education is seductive. The question then becomes, what can I do as a parent to give my child the best opportunity? Due to the popularity of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and club sports teams, parents rely on those coaches, who often are all about themselves and winning games. So if a child has talent, of course the coaches will tell parents that their child needs to play year round. Coaches will sell parents on scouts being more likely to see their child and on the 10,000 hour rule. This rule is a philosophy that has determined that to perfect a particular skill set, you have to do it for 10,000 hours first.

Presented with this biased perspective often leads parents down the wrong path of specialization and to the detriment of their own children.  Conceptually, the 10,000 hour rule makes sense.  The more time you invest in one sport the better you will be, which is true and the reason for practice. But for a young athlete, the repetition of the same movements playing one sports can burn children's interest and lead to increased injury.  A study by Dr. Neeru Jayanthi discovered children specializing were 93% more likely to be injured.  As parents, we have to understand our purpose and make sure we are not trying to achieve our dreams and goals through our kids. Maybe we lacked the talent or ability and view our child as an opportunity to make it right.  But proceed with caution because you’re heading down a narrow and dangerous road.   So in an attempt to make sure your child fulfills the 10,000 hour rule and place them in the best position, parents coincidentally harm their child mentally and physically.

I would recommend that the more your child can do, the better.  When a child is first getting into sports and developing, the more you should expose them to, and the more they will increase their abilities and opportunities to earn a college scholarship.  In 2013, 88% of scholarship student athletes played more than one sport.  If your child plays football and basketball in high school, he will have the opportunity to earn a scholarship in either or both sports, not to mention the different skill sets your child will develop because he will be more well-rounded. Athletically, a child will ask their bodies to perform different movements based on each sport. But as the child develops, enters high school and decides to specialize, skills they learned from playing baseball will apply in basketball, and vice versa.

In life, often the right answer is counterintuitive.  As an athlete, who grew up playing many sports, and as a father, who exposes his children to as much as possible, I assure you that your child will be happier and healthier. Balance is key! Author Casandra Clare describes it this way, “Too much of anything could destroy you. Too much darkness could kill, but too much light could blind.”  And if you really want to avoid paying for college, as I hope to do one day, create an environment where your children will develop physically and mentally, and enjoy what they do.  Even if they don’t earn a scholarship, the experiences and relationships they will have built playing multiple sports will be valuable.

Lorenzo's Locker Youth Sports

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