The Problem with Sports Specific Training

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Not too long ago I had a father come in and ask about some training. He seemed excited and his heart was in the right place. The issue is that his son is 6 years old.

We do not start training our kids until 8 years old. He noticed that his son ran kind of awkward and slow. He was wondering if we had anything.

I told him that we didn’t go that young and he asked if I had any suggestions.

All I told him was to get his son involved in as many activities as possible. Expose him to a bunch of different things and see what sticks. If possible, also try not to pick similar activities.

The main point I was trying to get across is that a 6 year old is basically a sponge for athleticism. If you can teach them to run, kick, throw, swing, and change direction at a young age then they are going to hold onto that forever.

But they are still kids. It needs to be fun for them. They have to stay interested.

This story illustrates everything wrong with sport specific training.

I have heard the stories of how great some coaches are because their training is specific. Well, running through ladder drills with a soccer ball might be specific but that does not mean it is good.

Specificity dictates that training closely matches the demands of the sport. It makes sense. If you want to be good at soccer then you need to work on soccer skills.

The part everyone forgets is that training must go from highly general to highly specific over time. This takes years.

That is the reason I suggested that this father should get his son into as many activities as possible. Start general and build athleticism.

Athleticism is Dying 

Two things are contributing to a lack of athleticism in our athletes: early specialization and a lack of activity.

Kids spend too little time with free play. Phones and tablets make activity difficult to happen. Instead of going out and being a kid, children perch themselves in front of the screen.

When I was 12 I played hockey, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and basketball. It almost seems impossible to do all of these things. I still don’t know how my parents got me to all of this.

Today, we have kids that struggle to do basic activities. Jumping rope, skipping, running through a ladder, and not tripping while walking in a straight line have become challenging.

Kids need to get back to playing and participating in a bunch of activities.

Specializing too Soon

Sports are also starting to dominate kids lives. I never played hockey in the summer or baseball in the winter. Those weren’t the seasons so we didn’t play.

Now there is an option for every sport, during every season. There are no breaks and no time off. If you love to play soccer, it is easy to never stop.

This is what leads us to specialization issues. Kids/parents (not sure who exactly is responsible) are not taking seasons off. When they do, then they suffer the consequences from certain coaches or organizations.

It is not easy to go against this but it is really helpful when thinking long term. Avoid specialization for as long as possible.

The Solution

  1. Make it a priority to play different sports each season
  2. Try to avoid playing similar sports. Soccer, basketball, and lacrosse all include very similar movements.
  3. Use strength and conditioning as another activity. Although not a sport, working on performance will help athleticism.