Early specialization does have its benefits as it allows children to understand pattern recognition and strategic thinking at an earlier stage. There are also athletes such as Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi who specialized at young ages and who would become phenomenal athletes. The Theory of Deliberate Practice by Ericsson and his colleagues supports early specialization, concluding that the earlier one can begin on focused training, the greater the chance at becoming exceptional in their chosen domain.
Conversely though, early specialization limits the ability of a child to explore other sports and discover whether they have other talents. Early specialization can also increase the risk of overuse injuries at a young age and burnout. The fact is that just because your child specializes early it does not guarantee the child will be a great athlete. Though Wayne Gretzky was a great hockey player even at a young age, it should be noted that he was also good at baseball and running.
Most sport governing bodies have also moved to the long-term athlete development model encouraging girls to begin specializing at age 11 and boys at the age of 12. This type of model challenges the notion of early specialization and supports the idea that children should be able to participate in a variety of activities before specializing.
A study of collegiate soccer players concluded that it did not really make a difference whether they had specialized in soccer or whether they were multisport athlete in order to play in the NCAA.
As a parent, allowing your child to be a multisport athlete ensures that their muscles and bones adapt to different movements, thus avoiding overuse injuries. Introducing children to a number of different sports also enables them to develop other characteristics and positive social interaction with a wide rage of new friends and less pressure, since they are not playing the same sport all year round.
References from the SIRC Collection:
1. Callender S. The Early Specialization of Youth in Sports. Athletic Training & Sports Health Care: The Journal For The Practicing Clinician. November 2010;2(6):255-257.
2. Côté J, Lidor R, Hackfort D. ISSP POSITION STAND: TO SAMPLE OR TO SPECIALIZE? SEVEN POSTULATES ABOUT YOUTH SPORT ACTIVITIES THAT LEAD TO CONTINUED PARTICIPATION AND ELITE PERFORMANCE. International Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. March 2009;7(1):7-17.
3. Ford P, Ward P, Hodges N, Williams A. The role of deliberate practice and play in career progression in sport: the early engagement hypothesis. High Ability Studies. June 2009;20(1):65-75.
4. Jenkins S. Leading Article: Digging it out of the Dirt: Ben Hogan, Deliberate Practice and the Secret. International Journal Of Sports Science & Coaching. December 15, 2010;5:1-21.
5. Malina R. Early Sport Specialization: Roots, Effectiveness, Risks. Current Sports Medicine Reports (American College Of Sports Medicine). November 2010;9(6):364-371.
6. Moesch K, Elbe A, Hauge M, Wikman J. Late specialization: the key to success in centimeters, grams, or seconds (cgs) sports. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports. December 2011;21(6):e282-e290.
7. Roberts W. EDITORIAL: Youth Sports: Who's Pushing the Cart?. Current Sports Medicine Reports (American College Of Sports Medicine). November 2010;9(6):323.