The Science Behind the World’s Greatest Athletes
Sports writer David Epstein July 2014
Sample many sports in childhood—don’t specialize too early.
As every parent knows, elite athleticism comes at a high price in the US & Canada, with many coaches pressuring talented children to start specialized practice immediately—often to the exclusion of other sports and activities. “AAU basketball has a second graders’ national championships now,” notes Epstein. “This is like kids who are over-hand heaving a ball at a 10-foot rim. They’ve convinced parents it’s like an important part of the scouting pipeline and their kids will get behind if they don’t go.”
Epstein argues that this push towards specialization—which he attributes to the popularization of the 10,000 hours rule—has been a “disaster.”
“There’s now a pretty strong body of evidence that we’ve over-specialized kids too early, and it actually makes them worse athletes,” he says. What Epstein is getting at is that there seems to be a critical “sampling period” before puberty, during which many eventual professional athletes play a variety of sports. Hyper-specialization makes it harder for kids to find the sport that is best suited to their biology. As an example for parents to follow, Epstein points to two-time NBA most valuable player Steve Nash, who didn’t start playing basketball until he was 12 or 13.
OPC Inc’s Kinesiology team also finds in their review of the literature, that when a young child gets to decide the sport or music program etc that they want to specialize in, they become self motivated and also derive more pleasure from participation in these activities.
So this summer let your kids play in the absence of adult supervision, let them develop basic, underlying skills then when they get to 12 or more let them specialize. This is the secret to real success and a happier young adult.
JESleeth & the Kin Team at OPC Inc