More sports experts come out against single-sport specialization

In a four-part series for the Ottawa Citizen in March, journalist Wayne Scanlan reviewed the evidence that kids who only play or participate in one sport or physical activity are at a disadvantage. Overuse injuries are one major problem. The other big problem is that kids who only play one sport miss out on developing other muscles and movements and learning different skills that can make them better athletes.

Chris Schwarz, who is the strength and conditioning coach for the Ottawa Senators, told Scanlan that he’s seeing elite-level hockey players who reach a ceiling because they lack some basic physical skills, like being able to catch and throw.

Schwarz talked about how important it is for kids to learn the basic — fundamental — movements at a young age because they provide the foundation for success in sport.

“I get kids here, and they missed this stage, because they’re not catching, running, throwing. They don’t process it. They can’t be creative … you flick a puck over their heads, they can’t react, because they never caught a football that way.”

It’s turned Schwarz into something of a phys ed teacher, as he helps players fill in the gaps of their body’s movement dictionary. It’s better for children if they do that when they’re young, and playing lots of different sports and getting involved in lots of different physical activities is the easiest and best way to do that.

This is so important that some high-level coaches are actually recruiting players who have never played the sport but have become such good athletes that they can easily learn new sports. One of them is Jay Mooney, who is the technical director for the Ottawa Fusion volleyball club and the coach of some elite volleyball teams.

“I have a kid on my 18U team who has never played club volleyball,” Mooney explained to Scanlan. “But he played all the school sports. He quickly passes kids who have been paying into the system for four or five years.”

Mooney is so committed to the notion that kids benefit from multisport experiences that he’s telling all the Fusion coaches to encourage their players to play as many different sports as they can. They may not learn the volleyball systems as well, reasons Mooney, but by the time the players are 18, they are better athletes, and will be better players.

Professional athletes, coaches, and trainers alike are railing against the idea that sport stars come from specialized backgrounds.

Even Hockey Canada is encouraging players to diversify their activity. Scanlan talked to Paul Carson from the national sport organization, who explained that parents and coaches need to take the long-term view of a player’s hockey career.

As Ottawa Senators team doctor and Hockey Canada chief medical officer Mark Aubry told Scanlan, the goal of sport is “to develop the person, make friends — all the values we want our kids to have. That’s more important than the remote possibility of our son making a living out of it or getting a scholarship.”

4 responses to “More sports experts come out against single-sport specialization

  1. Hi Lory,
    At Active for Life, we would agree with you — there are other ways outside of organized sports to help kids to develop a wide range of movement skills. In fact, we are big proponents of parents being the “first teachers” of their children, and that includes physical activity and movement skills. If parents can manage the time and cost of one organized sport in the winter and one in the summer, that’s generally plenty enough. In an ideal world, these same parents will also make sure that their kids are then active at home, with friends and with family. Schools are a great place in theory, but physical education programming varies widely across different schools, different districts, and different provinces. We advise parents to talk with their child’s school PE teacher and find out what they are doing at school in terms of physical literacy development. Thanks for helping to clarify things with your comment!

    1. Hi again Lory,
      Further to my comment above, I recommend that you check out our Activities section here on our website, if you haven’t already. It’s full of fun games and activities that kids and families can play at home to develop movement skills and physical literacy. If you get a chance, let us know your favourites!

    2. Lory, just to further what Jim has already written…

      I also think that what we mean when we talk about avoiding “single-sport specialization” is the situation where kids are playing the same sport year-round. We’re not suggesting that children need to play five different sports at the same time, but that they avoid playing the same sport to the exclusion of everything else.

  2. I think that one sport is enough in terms of the parents already taking so much time off to make sure their kids are at their regular and scheduled sports to begin with. I disagree with the article completely. There are other sports kids can play in school, and outside on their off time, that will see to the development of the other set of muscles not being used.

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Birthday<span class="gfield_required"><span class="gfield_required gfield_required_asterisk">*</span></span></label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_date'> <input name='input_1' id='input_10_1' type='text' value='' class='datepicker mdy datepicker_no_icon gdatepicker-no-icon' placeholder='mm/dd/yyyy' aria-describedby="input_10_1_date_format" aria-invalid="false" aria-required="true"/> <span id='input_10_1_date_format' class='screen-reader-text'>MM slash DD slash YYYY</span> </div> <input type='hidden' id='gforms_calendar_icon_input_10_1' class='gform_hidden' value='https://activeforlife.com/content/plugins/gravityforms/images/datepicker/datepicker.svg'/></div><div id="field_10_13" class="gfield gfield--width-full gfield_html gfield_html_formatted gfield_no_follows_desc field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible" ><p>Only one kid per email address.</p> <p>Active Start is for children 4 and younger.</p></div><div id="field_10_4" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i class='gform-icon gform-icon--hidden'></i><span>Hidden</span></div><label class='gfield_label' for='input_10_4' >Age When Submitted</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_4' id='input_10_4' type='text' value='' class='medium' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_10_5" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i class='gform-icon gform-icon--hidden'></i><span>Hidden</span></div><label class='gfield_label' for='input_10_5' >1st Birthday</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_5' id='input_10_5' type='text' value='' class='medium' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_10_6" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i class='gform-icon gform-icon--hidden'></i><span>Hidden</span></div><label class='gfield_label' for='input_10_6' >2nd Birthday</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_6' id='input_10_6' type='text' value='' class='medium' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_10_7" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i class='gform-icon gform-icon--hidden'></i><span>Hidden</span></div><label class='gfield_label' for='input_10_7' >3rd Birthday</label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_7' id='input_10_7' type='text' value='' class='medium' aria-invalid="false" /> </div></div><div id="field_10_8" class="gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_hidden" ><div class='admin-hidden-markup'><i class='gform-icon gform-icon--hidden'></i><span>Hidden</span></div><label class='gfield_label' for='input_10_8' >4th 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