The Top 5 Reasons Why Sport Sampling is Better than Specializing
Sport specialization has been a trend now for well over a decade. Kids who specialize in one sport only play that single sport, and they do so at the cost of sampling other sports. These sport specialists do increase their chances for faster and more efficient skill acquisition and mastery, but there are also important trade offs to recognize as well. For example, kids who specialize in one sport run a greater risk for sports burnout, and this can lead to anxiety, depression, and poor stress coping that may include drug and alcohol usage, reckless behaviors, and even self-harm. It is for these reasons that sport specialization be weighed against sport sampling when making family decisions regarding sport participation.
The top 5 reasons why sampling sports is better than specializing
- Less chance for sports burnout. Kids who only play one sport and play that sport for most of the year run a much greater chance for becoming burned out. Sport sampling, on the other hand, provides a constant variety – different sport objectives, different mindsets and physical preparations, different teammates, and different coaches. When you consider that the #1 reason why kids play sports is to have fun, it’s important to remember that sports become a lot less fun when it feels more like a job (as many kids report when they only play one sport all the time).
- Cross training of different muscles. Different sports require different movements, muscles, and balance, all leading to a more fully developed physical body. Sport sampling is a lot like cross training in the sense that with every new sport a new set of body movements are required, benefiting both physical and mental development. When kids specialize, they often use the same muscle groups so regularly that it leads to wear-and-tear, and sometimes significant, career-ending injuries.
- Meet new friends. Variety is the spice of life, and playing new and different sports affords the opportunity to regularly meet new and different friends. Generally speaking, kids who specialize in one sport tend to play with the same group of kids, but with sampling it’s always a new crew.
- Play for different coaches. When kids sample sports they usually play for a new coach with each new sport. What this means is learning how to learn, react, and respond to different personalities, teaching styles, philosophies, and expectations.
- Become a more well-rounded person. One criticism I have heard from families involved in just one sport is the lack of diversity and change, and that they can find it at times monotonous doing the same thing with the same people on a daily basis. With sport sampling, however, it’s always different — seeing new sport venues and locations, traveling to different parts of the country, and learning the different rules and etiquette associated with different sports are just a few examples of developmental advantages.
While it is true that more kids specialize in one sport than at any time ever before, it doesn’t necessarily mean that specializing is the right thing to do. Sure, kids might develop sport skills faster, but they also run a greater risk for physical injuries and mental exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout. And if you’re thinking about having your kid specialize in order to have a better chance at college and pro sports, it’s important to keep in mind only a very small percentage of student athletes will ever play at those levels – regardless of whether they specialize or not.