Sport Specialization


December 2, 2017

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

 

Kids specializing in one sport can have both its benefits and flaws and there is a lot that goes into making “the right decision.” Personally I think that it is a very good thing to have a kid grow up playing a variety of sports simply because it helps improve their athleticism. From personal experience, I wish I wouldn’t have given up soccer after the 3rd practice. My excuse was that I wanted to focus on baseball but really I hated running and most of all header drills. Lame, I know. Nevertheless as I struggled to develop in high school and into college, I learned that I could have developed better body control by doing other things than throwing a baseball. I picked up a bat and ball as a toddler and that is what was always comfortable to me. I always had a great feel for a baseball in my hand and I think that is why I was able to play at the level that I did as a pitcher. But it goes beyond just athletic development.

So here are my thoughts specialization.

Specialization allows more time to develop specific skills

Baseball is a skilled sport that requires a tremendous amount of coordination and body awareness. Not that other sports don’t, but the best players on a diamond can come in all shapes and sizes. ALCS Astros Yankees BaseballBy position, there is a unique set of skills and abilities that one needs to possess to compete at an elite level. Position players need endless repetitions fielding balls to improve their anticipation while hitters need swings to master it. You can do all the drill work in the world but any athlete will tell you that there is nothing like game speed. You need live at bats and game situations to truly improve your game, otherwise you’ll never know how you stack up against your competition. Playing year-round optimizes your experience on the field giving you the feedback needed for what you need to work on.

The drawback

Playing year-round can be exhausting and especially for pitchers, they need time for their arm to rest. From an athleticism perspective, baseball is a rather sedentary sport where there isn’t a whole lot of constant action. Slightly contradicting the exhaustion argument right? Well compared to a sport like soccer or football, there aren’t many plays in baseball that require the movement that the other provide.

The need for reaction time is different in these faster paced sports that can improve your speed and agility. You don’t have to perform relatively great in these sports, but it forces you into movements that you do not constantly get in baseball. Dribbling a ball or tackling a guy is something you never have to do on a baseball field (although it was awesome to see some contact in baseball back in the day), but you can develop a lot of footwork and explosiveness doing these other activities.

Age: Time will tell

As a child and adolescent, you’re not going pro… not yet. Every sport at every level has its standout players but 12 year old Johnny is not the next Bryce Harper… not yet. I believe that high school might be a better level to specialize in one sport but even then you can benefit so much from playing other sports. Bo Jackson, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton just to name a few were multi-sport athletes. Eric Cressey has talked about how “82% of the top athletes from the four major sports in the U.S actually played multiple sports.” There comes a time in everyone’s life where we decide what we want to do, and often it’s something that we are really good at. If baseball is what you love and you are getting recognized there’s a good chance that someone is going to give you an opportunity to play at either a college or professional level.

There is zero intention to discourage your dreams and aspirations to be the next MLB

Baseball Odds
National School of Baseball

star, but it’s worth considering the odds of making it to the next level. While in your youth I encourage you to enjoy your passion for sports and to use that energy to simply enjoy it. Sooner or later you will figure out what sport you can enjoy for the rest of your athletic career.

The drawback

You may miss out on developing those skills to be the best. Still, at a high school age and into college you have a lot of days to put in the work. A lot. Use that time wisely and you can develop the skills that you will need to get that scholarship or maybe even that phone call on draft day. Trust the process and most importantly embrace being an athlete.

An unneeded pressure

This goes to parents and it references the previous point. You probably know your child more than anyone else but you don’t always know what’s going through their mind. I have played with growing up and experienced on the coaching side that some kids can get burned out. Timmy might have been playing baseball since he was 5 years old and may love the sport but playing competitively isn’t for everyone. As they get older the competition gets harder and playing on travel teams can get overwhelming with all the expectations. As a coach I believe that my biggest failure would be to have them not enjoy the game anymore. If I ever get to be a dad and my son doesn’t like baseball it would be a heartbreak, but at the end of the day what matters is his passion. Failure in sport in my opinion provides one of the most valuable lessons in life, but some kids do get to the point where it may not be the best activity for them anymore. Communication is huge and I think that it is something that at times there is a lack thereof with kids and their parents in sports.

I knew that I wanted to play baseball since I was 3 and growing up I never understood why I had teammates that would talk about a T.V show in the middle of the game. I think that my parents always knew what I truly wanted out of the game so I was fortunate to have always received their positive support for my dreams. But I remember having teammates whose parents drove them away from the game simply because of the pressure that they put on their kids. This goes out specifically to those hardcore moms and dads. You want your kid to be the best but you have to always remember that it’s their game, not yours. Let the kids play!!!

 The drawback

 Got a little sidetracked with the multi-sport aspect but you get the point.

All in all

The arguments are all in context. If you are 12 years old and have always been one of the best players on your team then there’s a pretty good chance that you have a future playing college baseball or even professional. If you are one of the best players on your high school team then you have a good shot, but it doesn’t hurt to explore your athletic abilities across other sports. Worst comes to worse you can still take some ground balls and get your swings in your baseball offseason. Regardless of what you decide to do all you need is to invest 100% of your time and effort into what you love. I was a strictly baseball guy and I truly enjoyed playing from January to December year in and year out. (West Coast Privilege!!!) Looking back I don’t think it was the greatest decision in terms of athletic development and health (next article on Year-Round Baseball?).

Nevertheless get out and be an athlete!

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