Long Term Athletic Development: Is There a Problem with Early Specialization in Sports? Part 2

Research by numerous national governing bodies including, the United States Olympic Committee, and many others has proven that early specialization in sports actually prevents an athlete from reaching their full potential.

The lack of development of physical literacy (ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities) and proper athletic movement may lead to decreased interest in any type of physical activity. By age 9 physical activity rates begin to drop sharply. By age 15, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity declines to just 49 minutes per weekday and 35 minutes per weekend (JAMA, 2008)

A sedentary lifestyle can then follow. It is well documented that sedentary living causes such health problems as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases that evolve to form a lifelong problem starting in childhood.

So… Why do we have our kids play sports?

Youth sports are “big money” with parents spending over $5 billion per year for sports related activities (Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, Athletic Footwear Association, USA Today). Many of the organizations pray on the parents and young athletes in their dreams of college scholarships and professional careers. There is nothing wrong with the aspiration to play in college or professionally, however, it must be kept in perspective.

The odds of a college or professional career in sports are minuscule. Of the forty five million kids playing youth sports, 1 in 4 youth stars become a stand out in high school. Only 2 to 5 percent of high school athletes go on to play division I or II college sports. The odds are even much smaller to play professionally. The odds of a high school baseball player making it to the MLB is 1 in 4,000, high school football player making the NFL is 1 in 6,000, and a high school basketball player making the NBA is 1 in 10,000 (Scholarship Stats.com; Athletes Going Pro, NCAA.org)

However, sports participation can be a countermeasure to a sedentary lifestyle which is clearly prevalent and dangerous. Regular physical activity benefits children in many ways, including helping build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; helping control weight and reduce fat; preventing or delaying the development of high blood pressure and other diseases.

Sports participation can lead to enhanced concentration, improved grades and standardized test scores. It can help in personal development, such as improving self-esteem, confidence, goal-setting, and leadership. (GAO, 2012).

Ultimately, youth sports participation should lead to a life-long passion for physical activity and fitness. Adolescents who play sports are eight times as likely to be active at age 24 (Sports Participation as Predictors of Participation in Sports and Physical Fitness Activities in Young Adulthood, Perkins, 2004).

The Long Term Athlete Development Model helps to teach proper physical literacy and improvement of athleticism through proper skill movements learned in a sequential and progressive program design. These components will help an athlete become less susceptible to injuries, improve an athlete’s ability to perform technical and tactical skills more effectively, and assist the athlete to cope with the demands of the sport (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003).

In part III we will exam The Long Term Athlete Development Model and how it can apply to how we coach our kids. Also, if you would like to read the whole article in its entirety visit my website at mishock.wpengine.com. (Dr. Mishock is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania.)

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