An Alarming Sports Trend
According to Google results, there are nearly 7.5 billion people, 7,000 languages, and 195 countries across 7 continents in world. That's a lot of different cultures, religion, opinions, and customs. The crazy cool thing is that every 2 years, all (or most) of those countries lay down arms and differences and come together over one thing: sports.
Sports seem to have a reach beyond all the differences we have as humans and bring us together to revel in the incredible feats performed by the human body. It's truly an amazing event that holds so much as a global community.
It's also no surprise that many countries use this as an avenue to advance their own political ideals and views, using high performance as propaganda as to why their political system works. It's likely the cause for the recent Russian Doping Scandals, where steroid use was sponsored by the government to improve their athletes' performances on the global stage. It's the reason there are stories of the Bulgarians (in the old Soviet Union) used to have specialized athlete selection and education systems. For many, it's a big deal.
America is the same way, where ESPN owns the weekend and floods our news stations with spectacular football performances and the occasional highlight of some other, lesser known sport like baseball, basketball, or golf (if you couldn't tell, I'm not the biggest fan of the football religion).
Recently, however, America and some of its European counterparts have been displaying a large trend that should be alarming to coaches.
The trend is this: Early Age Sport Specificity.
I think it's obvious that I'm not talking about the high school senior that signs with a university to play a sport, and by doing so stops playing the other sport or two they play. When it's said Early Age, it means early age. It means 10-11 year olds (and plenty younger than that) are picking one sport to play for the rest of their athletic endeavors. Often times, those showing potential then play their selected sport year round (note: I purposefully avoided the term 'desired sport').
I think it's common sense that this will lead to great performance, but the problem lies in the sustainability of that performance. In any good Strength and Conditioning program, the offseason is spent increasing very general qualities, or what's known in the training world as GPP - General Physical Preparedness. The focus is focused on building general strength, general cardiovascular health, and prepare for adaptability to any given stimulus. However, with kids specifying in sports at such an early age, they begin to play year round in that sport, which effectively eliminates the offseason from the sport.
This specificity without a time built in to build GPP then results in greater injury risk, greater mental fatigue and burnout, and ultimately a shortened run at what could have been a great career. For parents reading this, think back to remember how many major injuries occurred to you or your peers in high school? Tearing your ACL at 15 was a freak accident, now it's not that uncommon. There have been reports of doctors performing Tommy John surgeries on 14 year olds! I've heard rumors (I haven't found verification yet) of parent's seeking out surgeons to perform ACL and Tommy John surgeries as preemptive measures to reduce their child's risk for that injury. Luckily, I don't think any surgeon in their right mind would do so, because it wouldn't actually reduce the risk of injury.
Playing other sports helps avoid this. Solid strength training helps avoid this. Off seasons help avoid this. A combination of all three would be the most helpful! Ultimately, a combination of the three will help promote longevity in any given sport, which in the end leads to far better physical and mental health for the athletes involved.
So before you go and quit one of your sports for the other, or if you (or your child) only play one currently, spend some time to evaluate the risks you may be setting yourself up for.