Is Specializing in 1 Sport Good for Your Athlete?

Do you have a daughter that shows incredible promise in her chosen sport?

Or does your son’s natural talent ooze out every time he heads to the field?

Maybe, you’ve just always DREAMED of having a star athlete in your home.

If any of these statements resonate with you, it’s crucial to recognize this one STRONG temptation that every parent in your position faces: 

Pushing your child to specialize, to maximize their chances of making it “big.” 

Led mostly by a fear of not keeping up, this temptation—to specialize in one sport too early—can lead down several unfortunate paths.

Here are 3 of those outcomes.
1) Being Plagued By Overuse Injuries

The data is in, and it doesn’t look good.

According to several studies, athletes under 18, that specialize in one sport are TWICE as likely to suffer from overuse injuries as their peers.

In just the US alone, 3.5 million sports-related injuries occur in children and teens every year. And because most of them involve the knee and foot, there can be long-term issues—including affecting the growth plate.

Surprisingly, even those who played “mostly 1 sport” but also included others, were 39 percent more likely to endure an overuse injury, than those who don’t focus so much effort on one sport.

So what exactly is too much?

David Bell, a professor of kinesiology and athletic training gives some great measurable recommendations parents should consider:

  • Take 3-4 months off from that sport every year
  • Be sure your athlete takes 2 complete days of rest every week—including from cross-training or supplemental exercises
  • Only play the number of hours a week that corresponds to their age—a 12-yr-old soccer player should not play more than 12 hours a week, including game time
  • Never increase the duration of training more than 10% in one week—if they are training 10 hours a week then the next week should not rise more than 1 hour 
2) Lacking In Physical Literacy

If you’ve ever seen an elite athlete struggle like a duck-out-of-water, when he attempted to do a different sport, then you probably won’t quickly forget the image.

It’s surprising and memorable because we expect such a good athlete to be, well… athletic.

However, when you urge your child to specialize in 1 sport at an early age, you deprive them of the opportunity to become physically literate. Because let’s face it, the most likely time in life to learn new sports skills is when you’re young.

Physical literacy, which involves 3 components:
  • Ability
  • Confidence
  • Desire

is a significant predictor for a lifelong pursuit of physical fitness—so it’s fundamental to staying active and healthy all through adulthood.

How can you help your kids to gain physical literacy? Try these approaches:
  • Encourage your child to explore different types of sports activities especially during the 6-12 yr old range
  • Make physical activity a family priority
  • View sports through a lense of exposure and fun
  • Only consider focusing on high-performance if your child has an appetite for it and after the age of 15
3) Connecting Self-Worth ONLY To Success In That Sport 

A natural result of specializing is that expectations on performance are high. And unfortunately, the unhealthy amounts of pressure are causing many talented athletes to burn-out and quit by the time they reach 13.

For those athletes who endure past this pivotal age, there is a danger of connecting their self-worth to their success in that sport.

This can get tricky.  

In one regard you want your kids to gain self-confidence from their learned and earned abilities.

However, you need to make sure they realize their value goes much deeper than just success in a sport. Eventually, they will experience setbacks and performance slumps, and you don’t want their self-esteem to plummet as a result.

Here are easy ways to guard against this:
  • Plan one-on-one time regularly, that is free of sport-related conversation
  • Be intentional to encourage your child in other areas of their life
  • Allow your athlete’s desire for competition to lead their pursuits—not your own appetite
  • Ask a trusted friend if your approach toward your child’s sport seems healthy
Choose Your Family’s Path 

There is a definite “pull” in our culture to create super athletes. Unfortunately, in the process, many kids get used up and burnt out at young ages—putting a lifelong love of sports at risk.

Do you struggle as a parent to find the healthy balance that works for your athlete and your family? Contact me here to open a conversation about how to specifically lead your family.

Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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