Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Specialization at a Young Age?

Are we having young kids "choose" their sport and specialize too soon?  At the age of 12, or younger in some cases, coaches are making the kids, or parents for that matter since they have to foot the bill for these expensive clubs, choose a sport and commit to year round training and competition.

The problem with this is that these kids are neglecting a crucial component of their physical and athletic development.

Research done by Russian sports scientists such as R.A. Roman, S.A. Medveyev, L.N. Sokolov, etc., suggest that before specialization in a sport should occur, youths must be involved in some sort of GPP training (i.e. running, jumping, throwing, gymnastics, etc.).  This might occur between the ages of 8-12 years old. This type of training is crucial for a youth's athletic development because it develops and prepares their joints and ligaments, cardio-vascular system, as well as general athleticism.  This is the base that these kids can build upon when their year round sport training becomes more rigorous.

Once specialization actually starts, around the age of 15 or so, the fundamentals of technique are hammered.  Training load and intensity is still very light and is not increased until one becomes proficient in the sport specific technique.

So what do you set a youth up for athletically if GPP training is neglected?

I came across this article a couple of days ago that addresses this issue in some capacity.  It's about the alarming rate of "adult, mature-type sports injuries" in youth athletes.

Dr. Andrews explained that the two major factors leading to this spike in youth injuries was two fold: specialization and professionalism.  Specialization leads to playing one single sport year round.  Professionalism is taking these young kids and trying "work them as if they are pro athletes, in terms of training and year-round activity."  At this young age, these two factors lead to overuse injuries.  The bodies of these kids haven't been developed enough to handle the training they're going through.

While Dr. Andrews doesn't address GPP training, GPP before specialization is a better solution to the problem.  Year round sports can be difficult on the body; therefore, the body must be physically prepared and ready to take such a beating.  If the body is not physically ready, injuries will happen.  Moving away from the tried and true philosophy of GPP as a youth and into specialization is becoming detrimental and injurious.  What are you going to let your kids do?

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