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The Sport Specialization Conundrum

A junior high math teacher wouldn’t tell students to give up the other subjects and focus solely on numbers. Yet some coaches within that same age group do exactly that when they ask middle schoolers to specialize in one sport.

Many coaches — and athletes — are pushing back against this trend of specialization.

The coaches point out that a well-rounded athlete is just as advantageous as a well-rounded student. Plus, skill sets can overlap, and there’s less chance of getting burned out or injured.

For students, the reasoning is often simpler: They need a break.

Take Abby Alonzo, a sophomore at Mount Carmel Academy in New Orleans. She began sports at age 4 and added more sports and activities by the time she reached junior high. She danced and she cheered. She played volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball, and she ran cross-country.

“As I got older, I had to devote more time to individual sports,” Alonzo said. “It is obviously physically impossible for a child to give 100 percent in every single sport.”

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She dropped soccer, cheer and volleyball. Still playing other sports, athletes like Alonzo not only compete against opposition, but against their own peers for starting positions and playing time.

Eventually Alonzo’s travel team softball coach had the players fill out a survey. One question was whether or not the athlete planned on playing softball in college. Softball eventually became a year-round sport for Alonzo, and she gave up all other sports.

When a regular-season in high school ends, the club, select and travel ball begins. And when that season’s over, high school begins again.

Some coaches don’t like players in multiple sports because an injury in one sport may dampen, or halt, the next sport. Let’s say a football player tears an ACL. That player would most likely sit out an entire basketball season.

Lee Fedora, the athletics director and football coach at Navasota (Texas) High School, encourages all student-athletes at his school to play more than one sport.

“My feeling is that it allows him or her to compete in more than one sport,” said Fedora, who’s won two football state championships in a football-crazed state. “If a kid’s a winner, then they’re going to compete and be winners at no matter what they do.”

But then there are kids who like playing one sport year-round. Most sports begin their respective club or AAU seasons after the high school season is done. This is true in volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball. Volleyball players often begin club tryouts while high school season is still going.

However, kids like Alonzo don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into one sport at such a young age. So how do they handle it and what advice would they give to a younger athlete?

“My advice to any athlete reading this is that this is your life,” Alonzo said. “You need to make the decisions on what you want to do, not your parent, not your coach, not peer pressure. You. Do not give up something you love to please another person or to make enough time for another sport.

"Do what you love, because you only have a small amount of time (before) you grow up.”

From GameChanger and Scott McDonald.

Basketball, Baseball, Softball, Basketball Player Development, Baseball Player Development, Softball Player Development