Is specialization really worth it?

When the word “specialization” is brought up in conversation, most people think it’s a terrible thing.

Specialization is nothing more than focusing all one’s energy on one thing to try to become great at that one thing. When it becomes toxic is when the parent is the one pushing the agenda, not the kid.

A lot of doctors would agree that it’s best a kid tries as many things as they want to do before figuring out what they really want to do.

A lot of kids enjoy participating in many sports because they might have friends in those sports that they enjoy hanging around.

That was the case when I was in high school. A lot of kids would go out for football because the football team never cut anybody, was always very good and they got to be around their friends. Also, they enjoyed football even though they knew they were never going to play. Some of those same kids would go out for the wrestling or track and field teams, even knowing they would never compete at the varsity.

I played football, baseball and basketball from first grade through 10th grade. I stopped playing baseball in ninth grade and football after 10th grade.

The reason I quit baseball was because I had always played it for fun. It was a fun summer sport that helped me relax after the football and basketball seasons were over. Even though I was really good, I viewed it as nothing more than a way to stay active.

I quit football after my sophomore year because the kids were bigger than me. While I was probably a better football player than most kids, I knew it just wasn’t going to be for me and I kind of didn’t want to do it anymore.

I decided to keep with basketball, a sport that I always had liked. I think the decision I made at 16 years old was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made because I was able to benefit from skills I acquired from baseball and football, and was able to translate a lot of those skills on to the basketball court.

What made it work for me was that my dad never pushed me, at all. I wanted it for myself and I think that’s the biggest thing for any athlete.

Forget what a doctor might say, kids know what is best for them and they are the only person who knows what they really want.

However, if a kid wants to specialize in one sport because they believe it will lead to an athletic scholarship, they are completely mistaken.

Only 5.9 percent of high school athletes go on to play any kind of college basketball, whether it’s Division 1, 2 and 3, NAIA or NJCAA for boys. The odds are slightly higher for girls, 6.4 percent.

Football is relatively high, eight percent, but it also has more than 45,000 college participants than the second closest sport.

Baseball has one of the highest high school-to-college transfer rates at 11.5 percent, but it’s very unique. In and of itself, baseball requires specialization. A left-handed pitcher is just as valuable as a 90 M.P.H. fastball.

In reality, skill is a small piece to the puzzle to receive a collegiate scholarship.

What kind of person are they? How are your grades? What programs are they involved in? What other sports do they play? How good of a teammate are they? Can they work well with others? These questions and more are what college coaches ask a high school player’s coach.

Most of the time, coaches can already tell what an athlete is like the moment they see the athlete perform. They look for specific things and can instantly tell what a player is like by their demeanor.

Do they react well in tough situations or do they melt down?

Now, of course a player needs to have skill in order for that coach to even be interested, but a lot of players develop more once they enter college.

It also depends on the sport an athlete plays. If it’s basketball, a player needs to know that he/she isn’t just competing against other players in America. They are competing globally. The influx of foreign college basketball players has been on the rise in recent years. Over six percent of men and women’s college basketball players are foreign. But it’s not just basketball. It’s every single sport. On average, 7.6 percent of all college athletes are foreign for men and 7.9 percent for women.

I’m not saying specialization doesn’t have any negative effects because it certainly does. Playing one sport can lead to “burn out” and injury, two significant things among today’s youth.

Injuries can occur from overuse, using the same muscles and ligaments every day, and can cause tendinitis or even more significant injuries such as ACL and Achilles’ tendon tears in sports with running, jumping or side-to-side movement, and shoulder and elbow injuries in sports such as baseball.

Burn out occurs when an athlete is emotionally and physically exhausted from long-term stress. These two factors are the biggest reason that a kid might stop playing sports.

To be honest, I thought specialization happened everywhere around the country. Since I’ve moved to Fairfield, I don’t think that’s the case. From what I’ve seen at the schools I cover is pretty eye-opening and cool. Athletes play two, three or even four sports during the course of the school year.

I feel like specialization is only happening in the bigger cities.

When I was in high school, it was pretty rare for a kid to play two sports and be good at both.

Normally, kids played only one sport.

In conclusion, I think the parent and athlete have to ask themselves, “Is specialization really worth it?” Is it worth missing out on other opportunities that other sports provide? Is it worth it for the kid?

I believe all parents want their kid(s) to be well-rounded and immersed into many things because a kid can only learn and experience so much from one thing, especially if it’s a sport.

Specialization is OK only if the kid is the one driving it, not the parent. Then again, what age is the right age for the kid to make the decision?

Among some of the research I did, here are some numbers I found pretty interesting about high school participation in sports.

According to data from the National Federation of State High Schools Association, in 2013 nearly eight million (7,795,658 to be exact) high school kids participated in a sport or several.

This is the 25th straight year that the numbers of high school sports participants has risen, an unbelievable mark considering how many kids are in high school in America.

Track and field garnered the most participants with almost 1.2 million. This includes indoor and outdoor track and field.

Football was second on the list with around 1.1 million participants, including nine-man, eight-man and six-man football. Over 1,000 girls participated in 11-man football in 2013.

Basketball ranked third on the list with 974,398 members and soccer incurred 791,983 boys and girls.

America’s pastime, baseball, rounds out the top five with a total of 483,695. While that’s a very low number, it’s actually up nearly 7,400 boys from the previous year.

High school girl participants went over the three million mark in 2013-2014 and had 66,131 scholarships available in every sport offered to girls.

The number of boy participants in high school sports was nearly 4.5 million last year and had 70,233 scholarships available. That’s 44 percent more participants and only six percent more scholarships.


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