This post comes from a newsletter I wrote for the training facility I work at here in the flat, cold prairies of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Great things are happening here as we move forward as a team, and our knowledge increases. We have been exposed to (and blessed) with seeing many walks of life. Youth to middle age. Basketball players to rowers.
As a matter of fact, I am sitting upstairs drinking a coffee watching a trainer take our rower through a serious of dynamic warm up movements to get him ready for a retest of heart rate recovery and his anaerobic threshold. Side shuffles, bear crawls, inch worms, and back pedals get his body and mind prepared for the task at hand There is a method to our madness.
In theme of my blog – which I have been neglecting for too long, I wanted to share what I wrote for this Wednesdays newsletter at Strive. It has “experience” written all over it, and I hope it can open up a valuable discussion for not only you as the reader, but for our generation of athletes, coaches and mentors.
Enjoy, and in (stereo)typical Canadian fashion, I offer you an apology for not producing anything the last few months.
While sports and game have been around for ages, it wasn’t until the advent of broadcasting mediums that the demand for specific athletes took off. There was once a period of time where the best athlete was the one who could perform multiple tasks fairly well. They had an athletic physique that was fairly common and general across all sports. You would see more similarities between a swimmer and a 100 meter track sprinter than you do now.
When the demand for viewing favorite athletes and sport teams took off, so did the demand for the perfect athlete fit for their task. Things began to get a little more specific. Gymnasts got shorter, offensive linemen got bigger. Then it became a lot more specific – if you find six people at least 7 feet tall, one is most likely in the NBA. Now specificity is finding it’s way into the early stages of an athletes developmental period – childhood. And with this, it may yield some serious consequences. The specialization here is not genetic however. It is purely environmental and can change with the mindset from the athlete themselves to the parents and coaches.
This is the early specialization into a sport – purposely holding an athlete back from participating in other sports for the sole reason of exposing them to more practice in one environment. Intentions are well, and the influencers in the athletes life only want what is best for them. It makes sense to practice more of one thing and do it well. But the latest scientific research is beginning to show that this mindset is actually ending careers faster due to overuse injuries and burnout all the while decreasing happiness of the athletes.
Less motor control, coordination, explosive strength, speed, agility and the development of the athletes full potential are all documented results of early specialization.There is also less of an exposure to physical, cognitive, affective and psycho-social environments. The brain of an athlete who has only played one sport perceives the world and their environment a lot differently than one who participated in more activities. And their bodies will perform differently as well.
A diverse body typically means broader physical, mental and personal skills. When it comes time for the athlete to specialize in their adolescent years, they have received much more stimulus to their senses, experienced more patterns and have an ability to recognize them with more ease. They were saved from fatigue and burnout. They can potentially recover from training faster because of their athletic baseline, and can then train again sooner. More chances to train, means more opportunities to improve and restore athletic qualities.
The athlete can then hit the targeted sport with the intensity and focus unmatched by early specialized athletes. They may have a larger window of trainability and development and with the right coach the quality of those hours under specialized practice will be much better.