Sports specialization is the focus and dedication to one sport year-round. Is specialization the way to get your child to the next level, or should they play multiple sports instead? Let’s see what the data says.
Research has proven time and time again that single sport skill training from a young age is NOT required to become an elite athlete. In-fact 85% of the 2020 NFL draft were multisport high school athletes (1). From 2008 – 2016, there were 746 first and second round draft picks in the MLB, 240 (32%) were multisport high school athletes and 506 (68%) were single sport athletes. On average, multisport athletes experienced less injuries and played more total MLB games while also experiencing a lower re-injury rate if they were injured (2). According to data provided by the NCAA, 87% of female runners and 71% of football players were multisport high school athletes (3).
Back in 2012, Dr. James Andrew famously published research stating baseball players who pitched more than 8 months per year were at a 500% increased risk for upper extremity surgery (5). I will be the bad guy and say it; your child does not need to constantly pitch during the baseball/softball offseason to have a successful season, no matter what any instructor or coach tells you. Yes, you can work on mechanics without throwing. If your child has no interest in playing another sport, they are better off focusing their time on supervised and age appropriate strength training (weightlifting does not stunt growth FYI), power, speed and agility, mobility, and having fun (4)!
Is there a benefit to specializing early? Yes there is! High level performance can be achieved at a younger age. Would you rather be the best 10-14 year old, 15-18 year old, or better yet, the best 18-24 year old? You decide…
Playing multiple sports comes with many perks: it helps with long term athletic development, decreases risk of burnout, and enhances decision making abilities leading to increased confidence levels. Playing multiple sports can potentially show a college recruiter your child is an athlete, is coachable, and they have a lower chance of sustaining an overuse injury.
Alan Miller, ATC, LAT, CSCS
Owner of Miller Sports Performance and Training
Father and husband
Combing sports medicine and sports performance to build healthier and more durable athletes.