Recently, a topic of discussion that has created a lot of buzz in the field of strength and conditioning is "Early Specialization". I'm sure you are familiar with this theory if you read any of Mike Boyle's blogs (www.strengthcoachblog.com). Mike does a great job of "painting the big picture" through his teachings. In his blog, he states that the concept of "Early Specialization" used to be thought of essential for the development of today's youth. In his blog titled "So Much for Early Specialization" he explains how early specialization can deter long term development. If you view athleticism as a recipe, late specialization is the main ingredient.
My question is, What happens when an athlete enters the high school rank? Is it beneficial or harmful for our adolescent athletes to play numerous sports? First, let me clarify what I mean by "Late Specialization". Early Specialization is when the focus is placed on numerous sports at an early age such as youth or middle school. Late specialization is when the focus is placed on a single sport or activity later on in an athletes career such as high school. I have been training high school athletes for a number of years. During each Pre-Training assessment, I tell my athletes to write down the top 3 reasons why they want to begin training. You know what reason always tops the list? Collegiate Athletics. If your goal is to play at the next level, late specialization is what you need in order to get there.
1. When the focus is placed on a single sport, a well designed strength and conditioning program will compliment the sport performed. This is where the concept of "sport specific" training falls into place.
2. To decrease the incidence of sport related injuries, sport specific preventative exercise will be able to be implemented. For example, shoulder health in baseball players, knee health in basketball players and ankle health in soccer athletes.
3. Collegiate coaches love athletes who specialize in one sport during high school. The percentage of dual sport athletes at the collegiate level is very low. If you want to increase your recruiting potential, show coaches you are worth the investment by making a statement. This is typically the case with collegiate baseball. Southern colleges and universities are dominant season after season because they recruit athletes who eat, sleep and breath baseball.
4. When an athlete plays a single sport, it allows time to focus on the "essentials". High school athletes and nutrition don't mesh well. This is a big deal when improvement is reliant upon 80 % nutrition and 20% training. One thing I found, athletes who play numerous sports simply just don't eat like they should. Why? Because they are busy. Many times leaving from an after school practice to a training session then to another sport practice/game. With school added into the mix, overtraining is likely.
5. We all know that the greatest improvements are made during offseason programming. When an athlete plays multiple sports (Fall, Winter and Spring) the offseason training occurs during the summer. When an athlete plays a single sport, the offseason period is significantly longer which makes for bigger gains in strength, explosiveness and flexibility. What would you choose, a 6 month or 3 month offseason? A 50 percent chance of becoming a better athlete! I think we know the answer.