Here in America, we tend to look at the athletic development of a child in the short term. “How is Johnny going to get that college scholarship if he doesn’t make the varsity team as a freshman? He needs special training!” “How long is it going to take to get my boys in peak shape? You know the season starts in 4 weeks.” “Our team isn’t competitive enough.” Theses are the kinds of things I hear from parents. Sorry to say, but the thought process in America is all wrong. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses and enrolling youth in every “specialized” training possible, we need to start thinking about sports as a long-term process for sports mastery.

In Russia, they have sports schools where athletes progress from an extremely broad base of exercise to a narrow focus as they reach sports mastery. This process does not happen overnight or even in a few years; we are talking 15-20 years time, that is how much of a big picture view parents in the US need to be taking. We don’t have sports schools, so it is on us as parents, strength coaches, and skills coaches to push the approach of long term sports mastery and not the notion that everything has to be specialized at the age of 8 or 12.

The data shows that children who specialize at an early age are more likely to drop out of sports early, get injured, and perform worse in sports as they get older, potentially ruining any chances of them achieving sports mastery. In most sports, specialization does not happen until the age of 16-18 and sports mastery doesn’t usually happen until the age of 25. Keep that in mind when thinking about long-term development and what our kids should be doing at 8, 12 and even 14 years old. Should they be focused on one sport? Should they be participating in “specialized” training? Most of the time, the answer is probably not. They should be focused on more general training and play lots of sports for long term sports mastery.

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