Sport Specialization

By Prateek Yadav
Pakmen Volleyball Club
Pakmen u18 Women’s Head Coach

The debate of sport specialization will go on for as long as sports are around, although specialization in a single sport at an early age is becoming more frequent. But is it the correct pathway?

According to a research study recently published in USA Today,  30 out 32 first round picks of the NFL Draft played multiple sports in high school, bringing forward a strong point that well-rounded athletes have better opportunities. But is this alone enough to make a case against specialization?  Is it not reasonable to expect male high school athletes to participate in multiple sports in high school? What is the evidence that playing multiple sports made them more proficient in football?  Also, football is a ‘possession’ sport, where speed and power can compensate for inferior balance, coordination and spatial intelligence.  Football athletes who are bigger and faster have an advantage.  Being bigger and faster is not as big a factor in ‘rebound’ sports, such as tennis, soccer and volleyball. In these sports, complex thinking and memorization of patterns are more important and require more practice in order to become world class.

In his book, Bounce, author Matthew Syed, documents dozens of studies which show that the ONLY path to world class performance in activities which involve complex thinking skills e.g. soccer, tennis and volleyball,  is attaining 10,000 hours of practice – in that specific sport.  He shows that the multi sport approach does not work in rebound sports because complex thinking skills do not transfer from one activity to another e.g. a chess master with seemingly incredible memory only has incredible memory in chess or, a table tennis player with world class speed and reaction times, only has that speed and reaction time in tennis.

This explains why the Williams sisters,  Federer, Woods, Messi, Renoldo, Gretzky, Crosby and more were all single sport athletes.

Kids should be exposed to a variety of sports when they are young, so they can learn what each sport offers.  If they are particularly passionate about one sport and want to be the best they can be, they have to specialize because that is the only way they can get enough hours of practice to learn and memorize the specific patterns unique to that sport.