Thursday, June 25, 2009

To Specialize Or Not To Specialize?

For every Agassi, Jordan, and Woods, there are millions of kids who never make it to the professional level. For as many college scholarships that are given each year, there are hundreds of thousands who never receive that offer. My question, therefore, is when do we have our kids / athletes specialize in one sport, rather than continuing with the others? 

I recently had a conversation with a mom of an 11 year old, who was emphatic  that her boy was going to play soccer, and ONLY soccer because she believed, "he had enough talent to get a college scholarship, and eventually turn pro..." AT 11 YEARS OLD, SHE KNOWS THIS???

I understand both sides of the argument:  
  • It's important to play all kinds of sports, as it makes our kids well-rounded, but also can help improve their play in the others. Basketball, for example, is a great way to improve a tennis player's footwork, speed, and jumping ability. 
  • Specializing allows the athlete to have a single focus, rather than splitting his time in other skill sets. It also puts him in front of those college scouts more often, giving him a bigger edge over his competition who are also trying for scholarships. 
When I was competing as a kid, I played tennis and basketball, both good enough for college scholarships, but I couldn't imagine giving one up for the other. I went to Dos Pueblos H.S. instead of Santa Barbara because the SB tennis coach wanted me to quit basketball. Attending SB would've landed me on the best high school tennis team in Southern California, and would've placed me in front of many college scouts... but would it have been worth quitting a sport I loved?

When do we REALLY know that our athlete has the "it" factor, and how old is old enough to specialize? I constantly preach to my students to focus what you want, and attack it with maximum passion, but there must be a balancing act. At 11, his interests most likely will change, but if miss mommy thinks he has that special quality that separates him from the rest, is it o.k. to wear blinders?


Erica said...

As much as I love tennis and for all the hours I've put into it.. I've always wished I gave gymnastics or soccer more of a chance. I wish tennis had been my decision I guess.. Even though I know I would have chosen it anyways.
It's like when you're steering the grocery cart in the store and some on has there hand on the basket.. And even though you KNOW you're the one steering it, the mere fact that someone has there hand on it and could theoretically be steering drives the driver bonkers.. It's the same sorta thing ha

Dayne Gingrich said...


Would your tennis game have been better if you played soccer or started gymnastics ? Were you pressured into 'specializing' by a parent, or was that your decision? You said, "I guess.." tennis was the right choice for you, which makes it sound like you're not quite sure.

What's your opinion on WHEN an athlete should give up other sports in order to concentrate on the one?

Erica said...

Once they're sure there in love with it. But I was thinking about this and I did play a buncha of sports as a kid. I played soccer and baseball and stuff. I always wish I coulda done the girly ones.. but I guess I'm not exactly a girly dancer type now that I think about it.

Tennis is the perfect balance between finesse and strength I would say. Am I right?

Dayne Gingrich said...

Tennis is awesome to improve your strength and finesse. Gr8 players crush, yet move effortlessly (Fed??).

What if you're 10 yrs. old, and you tell your mom that you're in love w/ dance? Should you quit soccer, tennis, and all the other sports in order to specialize at that young of age?