For our class activity of a structured controversy, consider the following information in favor and against youth sport specialization.
- Specialization allows players to spend more time developing the sport specific skills they will need to achieve high levels of performance in sport. This is typically advocated by scientists and coaches who believe in the model of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve athletic expertise. For example, swimming coaches who advocate for this model argue that swimmers can only develop world-class mechanics if they develop and practice these mechanics exclusively and don’t play other sports.
- Recent life skills research (Camire et al., 2011) has shown that players who specialize tend to develop stronger relationships with their coaches. Strong relationships enable coaches to teach life skills, but also sport skills, much more efficiently, because a trusting relationship exists through the increased number of hours that coaches and players spend with each other.
- Specialization leads to burnout through several mechanisms: (a) players lose interest because their sport skill often reaches a plateau; (b) players make an “opportunity cost” evaluation of their sport involvement and conclude that being so involved in one sport has cost them opportunities to get involved in other sports or other activities
- Athletes who specialize early typically play on teams that are focused on winning, which typically involves learning a “system” (like a specific offense in basketball) and cuts down on opportunities for individual players to experiment with their own creativity
- Specialization robs athletes of the opportunity to become proficient in a wide variety of movement experiences, leading them to be highly skilled in one set of motor skills, but under-skilled in movement patters that they don’t use.
By no means should these be the only “knowledge” you use to structure your opinion. My guess is that you all have unique sport experiences of your own, and you can draw on them throughout our “debate.”