SportsEvents Magazine

AUG 2016

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www.sportseventsmagazine.com August 2016 19 To Specialize Or Not To Specialize? "After that conversation, I got in the car and immediately decided I didn't want to play for him if I couldn't play tennis," Oliver said. That didn't completely put an end to her angst. "After that, I got on a different travel ball team and my coach was OK with me playing tennis," Oliver said. "However, sometimes he would make little comments like 'Well maybe if you focused on softball instead of tennis so much you'd be better off,' and other things like that." Specialization in youth sports is a hot topic these days. A poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 70 percent of American kids quit playing organized sports by age 13 because "it's just not fun anymore." With a focus on excelling in one sport to gain a potential college scholarship or professional contract, specialization is a major factor in heightening the intensity of youth sports and leaving the fun — not to mention thousands of kids — behind. "Specialization is clearly impacting the overall sport participation rate in a negative way," said Tom Cove, president and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. "That doesn't make sense. It is good for your business and mine at one level, because the top athletes do more and buy more. But there is a fundamental paradox. Those are our best customers but there are much fewer of them because so many other kids simply stop playing sports because they are not the best players on their team." What Cove and others find most alarming is the age when specialization kicks in, the study using age 13 as the breaking point notwithstanding. "Specialization is moving down in age," Cove said. "It used to be more traditional in U.S., but now it's going from 15 to 12 to 10 to eight. Kids are determining what sport to specialize by eight! That's crazy. First, you don't have any clue what your kid will be like body-wise at 12, 13, 15 — or what they will be interested in." Early specialization has become the rule rather than the exception. Emma McCarthy, whose father Mike won a world championship in track cycling in 1992, bucked the norm as an age-group swimmer growing up in Marin, CA. "Emma started swimming at eight but didn't specialize until she was 12 or 13 — which is pretty late," Mike McCarthy said. "Her coach actually wanted her to swim more when she started. [He] said she was talented and that three times per week wasn't cutting it. She wanted to keep doing other things — running, acting, playing with her friends — and I was concerned about burnout if she specialized too early. With my pedigree, I also wasn't going to push her as I knew she already felt some pressure to perform at a high level. It was basically her saying 'No thanks' and me saying 'Great!'" Emma watched her peers land college scholarships while she was recruited to walk-on at the University of Arizona. In her freshman season, she was the team's fourth- highest scorer at the Pac-12 Championship and anchored the Wildcats' 800 freestyle relay at the NCAA Championships. "She got a nice raise (a scholarship) and is pretty stoked for the next three years," McCarthy said. Coveting A Free Ride A college scholarship reigns as the Holy Grail for parents of young athletes. Steve Fryer covers high school sports for The Orange County Register in Southern California and has seen specialization increase during his 30-year career. "I think it has increased quite a bit and one of the driving forces of that is the craving for the college scholarship," Fryer said. "As you know, college is pretty damn expensive, and if people can get an athletic scholarship that's pretty cool. People believe the way to get that is to focus on the one sport. People think they have to do summer ball, travel ball — whatever to keep up with the Joneses." Which creates the atmosphere in which coaches and sometimes parents apply pressure, like Kalei Oliver faced. ► Special Feature: SPECIALIZATION IN YOUTH SPORTS At least 90% of female college athletes in these sports say they started competing by age 9. Gymnastics ................. 99% Soccer ......................... 94% Softball ........................ 90% Ice Hockey .................. 90% Source: www.ncaa.org At least 90% of male college athletes in these sports say they started competing by age 9. Ice Hockey ................. 97% Baseball ..................... 96% Soccer ........................ 92% Source: www.ncaa.org One Sport By Age 12 Source: www.ncaa.org The % of female college athletes who specialized in their sport by age 12 (Top 10 sports listed) The % of male college athletes who specialized in their sport by age 12 88% Gymnastics 61% Soccer 57% Ice Hockey 53% Swimming 49% Tennis 44% Basketball 44% Softball 23% Volleyball 22% Golf 18% Lacrosse 63% Soccer 59% Ice Hockey 45% Tennis 40% Basketball 37% Baseball 35% Swimming 30% Football 28% Golf 24% Wrestling 20% Lacrosse

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