Single-sport specialization? Pro coach says no, no, no

I went out for coffee the other day by myself — a mom luxury — and I was enjoying the tranquility until I overheard one father bragging to his friend about his son’s hockey prowess, and how his buddy really needed to get his own kid to stop wasting time with a bunch of other sports.

It was one of those classic moments where you yearn, à la Annie Hall, to step in with an expert witness, and tell a stranger how wrong they are.

I resisted, but here, based on an interview with esteemed coach Mike Boyle is the fictitious conversation I would have had.

Lori: Sorry, man who is ruining my latte, but you’re the one wasting his child’s time. By encouraging your son to only play hockey, you are robbing him of the overall benefits of physical literacy and becoming a well-rounded athlete. You’re also putting him at risk for more overuse injuries due to this unnecessary specialization, and you’re depriving your kid of discovering what other sports he may be good at, or just plain enjoy.

Man: Who are you to tell me anything?

Lori: Youre right. Im just a writer, but heres Mike Boyle, who has helped train the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, and U.S. Womens Olympic soccer and ice hockey teams.

[Mike steps forward.]

Mike: If you look at the American sport culture, there really arent very many of these people who specialized as 8-year olds who now say “look at me, Im at the top of the NBA, NFL, or Major League Baseball, and my parents pushed me through the system as a kid and if they didnt do that, I wouldnt be where Im at today.” But what you do see are a large group of entrepreneurs who are really selling fear, the fear that your kid will be left behind. Its untrue.

Man: But my kid is a great hockey player. How is he going to get better if he doesnt focus on just one sport? I dont understand.

Mike Boyle: With athletic development, you need a really broad range of skills early on to be a high level competitor later on. It literally doesnt pay to specialize early on. Everyones touting this long-term athletic development where you take a kid and you make them a better athlete when theyre younger. The idea is that you are trying to develop a great athlete. The other thing is you may misidentify a kid early on. You may have a kid that you want to be the next great hockey player and then you come to the conclusion that in actuality they are really good at baseball.

Lori: Yeah.

Man: So youre saying just playing hockey is a bad thing? But what about all the pro athletes who knew early on?

Mike: Wheres the evidence? I always tell people, look at the numbers. Look at soccer. Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, all these great soccer players. They were all great multi-sport athletes, they were not early specializers.

Lori: Yep. And remember, whats important is that your kid is active, healthy, and happy. Work on getting him excited about moving by developing all his physical skills and make it fun so the whole family can enjoy it together. In the end, hell probably turn out to be a much better and well rounded hockey player.

Man: Wow, I never thought about it that way. Thanks, wise and beautiful stranger.

So that obviously never happened, but don’t you wish it had? Tweet, Facebook, or comment below … what do you wish you knew, or that someone had told you, about kids sports from the start?

One response to “Single-sport specialization? Pro coach says no, no, no

  1. I wish we could just sit them all down and show them the US Hockey video about how all fundamental movement skills are hockey.

    Okay, I admit I have done this, and I run it on my TV in my recreation centre all the time.

    The look on parents faces when it says “This is Hockey” is priceless. Let’s get moving, and this isn’t the NHL, we aren’t playing for the Oilers, and all we’re trying to do is spawn a kid who moves.

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