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Why You Should Fear Sports Specialization

If you were in a room with 20 adults, likely at least 10 of them played a sport in high school.   The benefits of sport are plentiful. Sports promote self-esteem, leadership, and relationship building, accountability, and grit, to name a few benefits. Since 1987, when approximately 18 million US youth participated in sport, the number has grown to 60 million in 2008 (Caruso, n.d.). However, as more children are involved in sports, multisport athletes, or those who play multiple sports, are diminishing in number.

Sport specialization, rather than sport diversification, is known to lead to minimized interest in any sport or activity, an increased risk for injury, burnout, and irregular growth patterns (Caruso, n.d.). When youth specialize in sport, they often miss out on major gross motor skill development- think running, jumping, throwing, hopping, and hand-eye coordination. “Adolescent bodies are not prepared to be treated like an adult’s body” (Caruso, n.d., para. 18).

On the contrary, when youth are diversified in sport (in other words, playing as many sports as often as possible), kids typically are in an environment that nurtures a genuine love for a sport and acquire transferrable sport-related, mental, and physical skills (Caruso, n.d).

Still not convinced for sport diversification? Much of the science behind sport diversification comes down to child development. Children who specialize in a sport make up 50 percent of overuse injuries in youth. Kids who limited sport participate to just one sport at a young age are more likely to be inactive as adults and are more likely to be the first to quit. Youth athletes who specialize in a sport are 70 to 93 percent more likely to be injured than kids who play multiple sports. And, early sport specialization leads to a greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation, or lack of enjoyment (O’Sullivan, 2014).

Beyond avoiding the negative effects of sport specialization, the benefits of diversification in activities and sport are well-researched as well. Kids who participate in more than one sport likely have better overall skills and ability because of their better overall motor development and transferrable mental sport skills. Multisport youth athletes are more creative, make better and quicker decisions, and note patterns– all things that benefit their athletic AND non-athletic careers. Thinking that chances of collegiate play will decrease if your child doesn’t specialize? 88 percent of college athletes participated in more than one sport in their childhood (O’Sullivan, 2014).

If you’ve followed along with The Ninja Zone for a while, you likely know and understand the goals of the program: to foster discipline, focused energy, and skill in young bodies. The Ninja Zone employs exercises inspired by gymnastics, martial arts, and obstacle training involving tumbling, strength training, agility, and more. Variation is far from lacking and multiple muscle groups and mental and physical skill sets are incorporated in each session. Ultimately, free play and activities that are intrinsically motivating, prioritize fun, and are enjoyable are the way to go… Sounds a lot like the Ninja Zone philosophy!

Congratulations: you’ve made a great choice by encouraging these activities for your little ones!



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