Sports have been an important part of many youths’ lives following the modernization of American society in the 20th century. As society has progressed, these games have become more than just a way for children to interact and play with one and other. Instead, they have morphed into complicated competitions and have forced children to become experts in order to simply participate in their given activities. The overall goal of these activities is proclaimed by parents to contribute to the children’s’ overall social, physical, and mental well being; however, taking sports too seriously as a child can cause the inverse in these development areas for a young athlete. An article in Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics and a current event from Sign On San Diego help explain in further detail.
To begin with, the American culture has embraced sport for children as a way to help them develop and become productive citizens by learning life lessons. According to an article in Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics, “Children and Sport,” social spheres are positively developed through sports for a child; “sports participation offers countless opportunities for socialization activities such as team work, fair play, respect for others, [and] personal discipline. There are even mechanisms for developing coping mechanisms for anxiety, stress, and other factors that make up an adolescent’s life.” (Ebbets, 6207).* This positive overview on sports is generally shared by the community at large and has been proven by many personal experiences of young athletes. Even medical doctors agree that sports have a positive influence over a child’s well-being; two doctors wrote in a local news outlet, Sign On San Diego, that, “lessons learned by competing in team sports are valuable for the rest of a child’s life.” (Andrews & Levine, 1). These are true for a child’s physical experiences to the extent that it is undoubted that sports promote a healthy lifestyle by the very nature of their activity. Finally, from personal experience, I believe sports have a positive impact on youth. I learned many of the skills described above from playing sports my entire life and feel as if I am an example of the positives that can come from a child playing, and specializing in a sport at such a young age. However, specialization at an early age has been declared by both articles to counter-act the skills that athletics are idealized in creating.
As time has passed and sports have progressed, the demands on the youth athlete have created an environment where many youth are specializing in a particular sport at a younger and younger age. This has created a negative outcome of sports for many young athletes who chose to specialize in a sport at too young of an age. The main goal of youth sports from a physical fitness and development standpoint should be to physically challenge the young athlete enough where, “energies used to complete a workout are of such a magnitude that they do not steal from those energies needed for growth and development. (Ebbets, 6207). Andrews & Levine agree on the positive impacts sports have on children involved with sports but went into more depth on the possible dangers youth can experience physically when specializing too early. They firmly believe that, “it’s important for kids not to specialize or play one sport year round” and that, “parents and coaches must be cognizant of the fact that kids’ bodies are not meant to be trained in the same manner as adults.” They point out that of the nearly 30 million children playing sports under age 14 in the United States, that 3.5 million will receive medical treatment for sports injuries in a given year. This negative physical impact of sports is said to be caused by young athletes’ specialization in a particular sport. Due to this specialization, the child experiences over-use and under-development of muscles and motor-skills that could be developed by a youth athlete who does not specialize in a sport year round. They hold the opinion that changing up sports with the seasons as a child can help prevent injury in addition to creating a, “healthier and stronger athlete in the end.” (Andrews & Levine, 1).
Moreover, specializing in sports at too young of an age can also cause negative mental and social development. The idea of youth in sports, beyond promoting physical fitness, is to develop social skills and mental cognitive/coping skills for the child later in life. According to Ebbets, there are numerous factors that influence a child’s attitude regarding athletics. He states that, “every effort should be made to promote [core]* qualities as they will solidify into the core values that will help set one’s moral compass later in life.” (Ebberts, 6207 – The core values referred to are noted in an above quote with a *). The problem that arises out of children specializing at such an early age is that they do not have the social skills nor the cognitive skills to understand the complex roles they must partake in to be successful in a serious sport. Ebberts has gone so far as to set age specialization recommendations due to the negative impact sports specialization can have on children deemed too young. The trend seems to generally be geared towards when an athlete is considered elite in his/her sport; gymnasts are typically at their peak physical performance capabilities when they are in their teenage years where baseball players and football players do not peak until their college/post-college years. Thus, Ebberts’ trend suggests that social and mental abilities from these sports are best learned in specialization form at an age that correlates with a time frame just before their peak physical development. (Ebbets, 6206). Committing to a particular sport too early can cause a mental burnout effect where the athlete loses interest in the sport as it has become a job rather than a fun activity. Overall, the mental and social skills learned from sports are suggested to be better learned if a young athlete does not specialize in a sport too early as a child.
In conclusion, the overall goal of children in sports to develop better physical, mental, and social skills for later in life can be compromised by the specialization of a child in a particular sport at too early of an age. Scholars agree that there is a vast opportunity for children to excel in sports and nurture core skills for later in life by participating in sports. Unfortunately, the modern competitive nature and external pressures on young athletes has caused many to specialize in a particular sport at too early of an age. This produces a negative effect on the child’s core skills in direct opposition of the reasons children are ideally driven to play sports in the first place. As society progresses and molds sports to be the competitive battlefields they are for youth and adults alike today, it is important to keep the original fitness and wellness goals of youth sports alive by combating early specialization in order to maintain an overall healthy environment for youth athletics.
Ebbets, Russ. “Children and Sports.” Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics 11.1 (2010): 6204-210. Print.
Keep Kids on Playing Field and Out of Operating Room – SignOnSanDiego.com
- Motivation from Socialization (exactsports.com)
- For kids, it’s more than just a game (eurekalert.org)
- Have You Ever Played a Team Sport? (fitsugar.com)
- Friday Fun: Youth Sports Getting Too Youthful? (blogs.wsj.com)
- Color — Learn & Play Offers One-of-a-Kind Education and Entertainment for Young Athletes Across the Globe (prweb.com)