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Too much, too soon - you're on this in July, you should read this

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Early Specialization Too Soon


Originally published in Los Angeles Sports and Fitness, May/June 2013.


As a seventh grader dribbled around his back and attacked the basket during a middle school championship game, the parents commented to each other about the quality of play. One mother explained that several players played on a year-round competitive team in addition to their school team. The year-round play likely helped their team win the game and the championship. Their skills were a little more advanced than their opponent; they made some free throws, and they made better decisions in 2v1 fast breaks. Of course, they also may have won because one player had more facial hair than I had when I graduated from high school or because they had the tallest, most coordinated player on the court. They also may have been lucky, as this was the first time in two seasons and four games that they had won against this opponent.


In youth sports, there are many explanations for a team’s success; people choose the narrative that fits their perspective. If a mother spends several thousand dollars per year on a competitive travel team, she attributes her son’s success to this year-round play, not his size advantage. The mother of the shortest player on the losing team may attribute the loss to her son’s lack of physical maturity, not his non-existent skills. The coach may attribute his team’s success to his coaching, not his players’ year-round play with another coach and team. Everyone has his or her own perspective, and the truth often includes a little of everyone’s perspective.


Is the year-round play or early specialization good for those children? The answer depends on the children’s and the parents’ goals. If the goal was to win a middle school championship, playing year-round on a club team probably enhanced their opportunity to win. If the goal was to have fun or to keep the boys busy and out of trouble, playing on a club team likely kept the children busy, though there may not be a guarantee of fun. If the goal was to enhance their future playing opportunities in high school and beyond, the early specialization in basketball likely did not benefit the players compared to playing in many different activities at this age.


Nearly every player on my freshmen basketball team this season played football or soccer before basketball, and our opponents’ best players were football players. Are they the most skilled basketball players? Will they have the longest basketball careers? I don’t know. Some may choose football; some may not grow; some may not have grades; some may not practice hard enough. It is hard to predict the future. However, I would say that the multi-sport athletes have a better chance to develop into varsity basketball players than the single-sport players.


The multi-sport athletes were stronger and quicker, which provides a better base on which to develop better basketball skills as they continue to play. Additionally, many, if not most, of the best players in professional sports were multi-sport athletes during their childhood. LeBron James was an all-state wide receiver in high school; Tom Brady was drafted in the Major League Baseball Draft; Miguel Cabrera was offered a professional volleyball contract. Aberrations? No. According to an article circulating online that looked at the top 10 players in each of the four major professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) as determined by ESPN, 82% of the top 40 athletes played multiple sports during their childhood.

These observations are supported more and more by research. A recent study looked at the association between the number of sports played at 11, 13, and 15 years of age and the level of competition between 16 and 18 years of age. Those who competed in three sports at 11, 13, and 15 were significantly more likely to compete at a national level between the ages of 16 and 18 than those who practiced only one sport (Bridge & Toms, 2012). This study suggested that multi-sport athletes do not have their national or professional aspirations curbed by their late specialization, but instead suggested that playing multiple sports may increase one’s chances of becoming an elite athlete, much like the observations of professional athletes.


A 2011 study found that elite athletes specialized in a single sport at a later age and trained less during childhood than their near-elite peers (Moesch, Elbe, Hauge, & Wikman, 2011). The elite athletes in this study intensified their training more in adolescence than did the near-elites. The organization of practice during the mid-teens was seen as the crucial factor separating the two groups, meaning that my freshmen are approaching the time of differentiation. How hard will they practice? What will they do in the off-season? How much will they lift weights and take care of their bodies? How much playing time will they earn? These are the questions that will determine their future participation and success, not the number of sports that they played in childhood or amount of practice hours in basketball prior to high school.

I know a high-school coach who believes that he can identify his varsity starters when they are in middle school. He must be amazing, as I do not know how the 14 freshmen on my team will turn out in the future. He believes in his talent identification skills; I believe that he creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that ensures that he is correct. Research has shown that only a third of international pre-junior athletes reappeared as senior athletes (Barreiros, Côté, & Fonseca, 2012). Whereas there is more competition for national team positions than for varsity high-school positions, the research again suggests that the years that determine one’s success in high school and beyond are during the high-school years. With my team, are the taller guys done growing? When will the shorter guys hit their growth spurts? Who will work harder during the off-season? Who will decide to focus on football, baseball, or soccer rather than basketball?


For most sports, there is no evidence that intense training and specialization before puberty are necessary to achieve elite status. Some specialization is required to develop into an elite athlete. However, for most sports, this specialization should be delayed until late adolescence to optimize success while minimizing injury, psychological stress, and burnout. (Jayanthi, Pinkham, Dugas, Patrick, & LaBella, 2012). In a tennis study conducted in Chicago, Dr. Neeru Jayanthi compared the sport participation of injured and uninjured adolescent tennis players. The injured players spent more than 5 times as much time playing organized tennis compared to recreation and free play, whereas the uninjured players spent only 2.6 times as much time in organized tennis. Whereas both groups engaged in the same amount of total exercise, the specialization in the single activity appeared to be the precursor to injury. Beyond physical injury, some adolescents may burn out on the activity if training year-round in one activity for a number of years through their childhood. I have trained several players who turned down college scholarship opportunities because they were sick of the sport and the training and wanted to do normal things.


If the goal is to win middle school championships, specialize. One’s sport-specific skills will develop more quickly with the additional hours of play and practice, and this may lead to the desired championship. However, this early specialization generally leads to an earlier peak in performance. For these children, winning the middle school championship may end up as their crowning achievement in basketball. Was that the goal? Is that a good outcome for the year-round play? Numerous studies have shown that late specialization leads to better adult performance and decreased injury and dropout rates. For long-term sports participation, enjoyment, and success, playing multiple sports throughout childhood with greater specialization as one moves through high school appears to be the best path.


By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES

Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball

Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development

Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League


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Very interesting article! My wife has coached at the cegep and university level and she subscribes to this school of thought. It was our worry this season that we had our son in too much hockey with his aaa season and the Brick. Against our better judgement, we neglected his baseball, basketball and soccer for hockey. Now at the end of the brick, we are rethinking what can be done differently after the minor hockey season to better benefit my son s athletic development.


Great article!!!

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Very interesting. I also find that my son may not appreciate his sport as much if he doesn't get a decent period off betwen seasons. And if he's not excited about returning to hockey becuse he din't gt a break, he may not put in as much of an effort. Motivation is essential to improving.


Concentrating on another sport for a while keeps his mind away from hockey, which helps his motivation when he starts again.

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I completely agree with  this article, very good read. My son has always played soccer and golf in the summer after his spring hockey and by the time the camps start in August, he is looking forward to hockey again. This year, we played the Kingston tournament and we were so done with hockey by then, too late in my opinion.  I hope everyone who has their children in year round training will be able to appreciate this article and learn something from it.

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Certains disciples du AAA misant à tout prix sur le hockey printemps/été pour "développer" l'élite au Québec auraient intérêt à lire cet article, question de mettre les choses en perspective.


C'est un texte très intéressant, mais il n'y a rien de nouveau. Si l'on consulte le programme de développement privilégié par Hockey Québec et Hockey Canada, ceux-ci ont les mêmes propos. À part quelques sports spécifiques (ex : la gymnastique), la spécialisation avant l'adolescence n'est pas recommandé. En fait, c'est le meilleur moyen pour que l'enfant se tanne ou se blesse.


Le problème c'est qu'on oublie parfois, moi le premier, que ce qui fait le bonheur de nos enfants ce n'est pas de jouer au hockey à l'année. L'été, c'est les amis, le camping, la piscine, le vélo, le baseball, le soccer, le golf, la pêche, etc. C'est juste une question d'équilibre.

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:-?:  Mon fils était encore meilleur au soccer que n'importe quel sport qu'il a fait et fait il a jouer au soccer a la crosse en jouant sont hockey de printemps 

Encore une discussion qui va nulpart :roll:   de  faire du hockey de printemps empêche pas un jeune de faire d'autres sport! le miens a fait du soccer, du MMA, combat compris de 10  ans a 12 ans,  jouer a la crosse adore la picine et les plages etc...


Je vais vous répondre mon gars présentement il est a Boston depuis mardi matin on a payer sont voyage hôtel et même sa nouriture il est allez au cinéma ce soir demain il visite Boston University!  et rencontera David Quinn  ensuite directon Maine vendredi pour un tournoi  de hockey le fun  rien a voir avec du gros calibre mais il va jouer avec une de ses amis qu'i est un des meilleurs des USA pour la premiere fois depuis 3 ans OW  le jeune qui a marqué le but a la Crosby au Fleet Center des Bruins de Boston a 9 ans! et un autres de la Floride ansi que 2 de la Californie avec qui il a joué au Brick!  a Lobs festival ils vont allez a la place a Old Orchard  avoir du plasir voyager allez a la plage voir du monde et même être invité a visité les instalation de la NCAA de Boston University

Bien c'est cela aussi le hockey combien de jeune de 13 ans  peuvent en dire autant poutant sans AAA de printemps Sans AAA hiver (atome et  pee wee et batam en surclassement l'année passé rien de cela étit possible sauf pour le tournoi dont j'aurais du débourser les frais de tournoi avion et nouriture!!

C'est aussu ce que le hockey rapporte au lieu de diminuer l'importance! Vous pensez tout connaître mais je vous fait la leçon etmon fils est pas le seul qui a 13 ans visite Bostons University ils sont 3 jeunes invité :idea:

Voilà pour les théorie du AAA du printemps facile de dire n'importe quoi ca tombe en plein dans le mile en plus ca pouvais même pas tombé mieux 

Pas de bon sens les supposer expert  continuer a lire des études des fa¸on de faire mais pas savoir ce qui se passe vraiment 

Des jeunes du Quebec 13 ans et 14 ans sont invité a .....TBK je p-eut pas en parlé mais TBK que j'aimerait vous mettre cela dans la faces 

Incroyable les psedo expert pis ceux qui pense .... juste pense voila la réalité d'un véritable élite sans TBK de bullshit maintenant faites en ce que vous en voulez et continué a vous conter des peurs et de vous croire les uns les autres 

Moi nous sommes qu'un parmi plusieurs autres mais qui ose répondre a vos insinuation a propos de l'élite TBK que cela dérange du monde les lettre AAA et les meilleurs cristy de petite vie! 

Continue a suivra la vague et s basher sur tout ce qui ressort de la vague :roll: prenez toute les étude qui ont été créé pour prouvé un point et non l'ensemble  avec trop souvent des échantillons biaisé au sens dépendant de ce qui fait sont affaire et ce que l'ont veut prouver!

Pis servez vous en comme une vérité absolue  pour de ce qui a voulu être prouvé sans son ensemble et tout ce qui s'y y est attacher et ce que cela rapporte  


Interprété choisissez ce qui fait votre affaire mais posez vous la question pourquoi cherchez vous tant a prouvé ces choses a propos de l'élite ou du AAA 

Pourquoi parlez vous pas des jeunes au tennis ou natation ou gymnastique qui passe des heures a s'entraîner comme des malade en bas age pour devenir ce qu'ils sont!! Non vous parlez du hockey et de ceux font pourtant  la même chose même pas besoin de me poser la question vos réponses disent tout :idea:

Maudit élite que cela touche les émotions de bien du  monde  et qu'on a dont de la misère a en voir réussir a notre place ou celle de  son fiston la fierté collective en prend  pour son rhume (J.E.C.F.M) :roll:

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Excuse-moi Carey, je suis en général d'accord avec tes propos, mais tu ne peux pas tirer ainsi à la mitraillette - l'article ne parle pas d'élite, mais bien d'équilibre.


l'article ci-dessus conclu avec ceci:

"Numerous studies have shown that late specialization leads to better adult performance and decreased injury and dropout rates. For long-term sports participation, enjoyment, and success, playing multiple sports throughout childhood with greater specialization as one moves through high school appears to be the best path."


Tu parles de BU, J'ai joué à BU avec un full scholarship et le strength coach de BU - Mike Boyle abonde dans le même sens que l'article ci-dessus. Tu peux aller voir son site web.


Comme plusieurs papa, et je m'inclus dans le groupe, tu es plein de bonnes intentions et un bon observateur de ce qui se passe à l'en tour de ton gars - ça ne fait malheureusement pas de nous des experts. Avec humilité, et pour le bien de nos enfants, nous devrions écouter ce que Boyle et l'auteur de l'article, qui sont de vrais experts, ont à dire. 


Les études empiriques ont, selon moi, beaucoup plus de poids que les commentaires anecdotiques.


Bon été,




P.S. En passant, ton allusion à la gymnastique est erronée... la gym, contrairement au hockey n'est pas un sport à "dévelopement tardif"

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Les opinions sont très variés à ce sujet. On sait tous que seulement une infirme partie des enfants feront partie de l'élite et de ceux-ci seulement quelques-uns ont une chance de percer au niveau professionnel.


Certains enfants ont le désire de jouer au hockey a l'année et ce en dépit de ce que les rapports disent. Bien que je suis d'accord qu'il existe un plus haut taux d'abandon ou risque de blessure. Les enfants jouent (entk je l'espère) pour leur propre plaisir et non celui de leurs parents. Si un enfant souhaite jouer au hockey à l'année tout en pratiquant d'autres sports, faire du camping, aller a la pêche, ou n'importe, je n'y vois pas de mal.


De toute façon, on sait que le but n'est pas de développer un joueur afin de jouer professionnellement. Tant mieux si ce jeune est plus développé que son groupe d'âge. Il pourra profiter de cet avantage puisque nous savons tous qu'il jouera fort probalement dans la ligue du dimanche au même titre que le jeune ayant développé sur le tard.


Effectivement, c'est une question d'équilibre. L'erreur a évité est d'empecher l'enfant de se coucher tard, de se baigner entre deux games, de manger ce qu'il veut, ou de ne pas faire une activité parce il a une partie le lendemain.


Jouer au hockey et ou la pratique d'un sport doit être une expérience positive et enrichissante.


Ma conclusion est la suivante :


Puisque nous savons qu'il est pratiquement impossible qu'un enfant joue professionnellement. Laissons le décider de son avenir. Il veut jouer a l'année tout en pratiquant d'autres activités. Correct. Vous sentez qu'il a besoin d'une pause. C'est parfait aussi. L'important dans tous ca et que la motivation du parent ne dépasse jamais celle de l'enfant.


Ce que je n'aime pas de ce genre d'article est que cela pousse les parents a se sentir coupable de permettre aux enfants de pratiquer un sports a l'année quand le fond du message de l'article démonfre qu'il existe plus de chances que l'enfant joue professionnellement si le jeune joue que quelques mois par année. C'est un double discours selob moi. Chaque enfant est différent. Chaque athlète aussi. Une étude n'est qu'une étude. Au bout du compte, c'est le bien être du jeune qui est important.

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