Nomar Garciaparra has added his name to the list of high-profile athletes to against young athletes specializing in just one sport.
The six-time All-Star who played in the majors from 1996 to 2009 says specialization is a real problem in youth sports, and now he is working with the Los Angeles Dodgers to open new training centers. They focus on developing not just strong baseball players but great overall athletes.
As someone with deep ties to baseball, Garciaparra sees over-specialization as a problem particularly in baseball, noting the increase in injuries among young players. The rise in Tommy John surgeries among athletes between 15 and 19 years old is a major red flag, for example.
“You have 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds focusing on one sport and playing all year long,” Garciaparra told MyNorthwest.com. “You have some of these kids pitching more than guys in the big league level. That needs to be addressed.”
More coaches, players and parents are beginning to see the downside of concentrating on one sport. But there are still some who cling to the notion that participating in other sports will hurt an athlete’s chances of getting that coveted college scholarship or being drafted out of high school.
So, how do you talk them off the ledge? Garciaparra advises players to become complete athletes, drawing from his own personal experience as a youth. He credits his quick footwork in baseball to playing several years of soccer, and says he learned how to thrive in high-pressure situations through football. As for baseball, he hardly remembers any of his plate appearances.
“I do recall having to kick a field goal with three seconds left, and I do recall the state championship and there was a penalty kick, and I had to take that penalty kick,” he said.
USA Baseball takes that philosophy a step further by promoting multi-sport athletes on its website. And the National Federation of High School Sports Associations agrees.
“Too often, the pressure to specialize comes from an adult, either a coach or a parent,” Mark Rerick, a high school athletic director, wrote in an NFHS blog post. “If less than seven percent of high school athletes move on to college sports (and only three percent earn an athletic scholarship), we need to focus our other programming on the other 93 percent of our participants.”
Despite these numbers, there are still plenty of parents and athletes who are continuing to specialize in one sport. Garciaparra continues to work on promoting multi-sport athletes. He uses cake as an example to point out the high risk of player burnout.
“My child loves cake, but I don’t give it to him for breakfast every day,” Garciaparra said. “As a parent, I have to slow them down too. I have to be that one who says, “you need a break”.”
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr