My 6 year old son was accepted into select hockey this year. My husband and I were torn about whether to let him be part of the team. I was just about to have a baby, and as a lawyer, my husband cannot come home early 3-4 times a week to take my son to a game or practice. Carpooling was not an option this year, because none of his friends tried out and he didn’t know the other parents on the team.
We struggled with this for a while – because he really loves to play. In the end we decided to wait until next year.
When I go watch his house league games now, part of me feels bad about the decision – because of course I think he’s a star (just like every other obsessed hockey mom). Then, when I take a step back and think about our decision, I know for sure it was the right one for us.
First, I actually think that early specialization is not great for kids. To be a good athlete you need to be well rounded and be exposed to a number of sports. Being in select hockey this year would mean that he would not be able to go to after-school tennis or basketball. Second, my 6 year old son (as much as he loves hockey) – is still a little boy that needs time to play with his siblings and friends, veg out in front of the TV, and even play some video games. Third, after a whole day of school, my kids are exhausted. They need time to rest and many late nights in grade 1, I think, would end up impacting his academics. Fourth, while we absolutely love our son, we also have 3 other children to think of. We need to have adequate time to devote proper attention to all of our children. I know so many families that are running from game to game, tournament to tournament – and it takes up a huge part of their lives. It definitely cuts into family time – and at the age of 6 – we felt it was too soon to make that sacrifice.
What do the experts think? Overall, from my research online – experts agree that early specialization is not ideal. I spoke with clubmom vendor and owner of Sportplay - Coach Mike Perozak. My kids have all taken Sportplay classes (a multi-sport, after-school and week-end program). Here’s what Coach Mike has to say on the issue of early specialization -
“We live in an age of specialization that is influencing education, work, play and even our children’s programming. Children’s basic reading, writing, arithmetic and athletic skill level have been affected. Many children are missing the fundamental building blocks needed to achieve their potential.”
Coach Mike identified 3 hazards of specializing in sport and recreational activities at an early age:
1. Health Concerns: overuse injuries and negative effects on body development.
2. Emotional Burnout: The pressure of competition that often comes with specializing early can be overwhelming for children leading to emotional burnout and early exit from the sport or sports altogether.
3. Child and Family Burnout: The demands of specialized programs can result in detrimental effects to diet, health and general well being.
Coach Mike explains that
“specializing too early may have a negative impact on lifelong health, well-being and friendships that sport and recreation are able to provide. It is important to realize that for most sports the chance of “making it” to the big leagues and making a living is less than the chance of being hit by lighting (0.02%).”
When my kids attended Sportplay, they were exposed to a number of sports throughout the session, which is what I liked about the program.
Multi-sport programs have a number of benefits according to Coach Mike:
They are great for establishing gross motor and athletic skills and giving kids the confidence to try and play a variety of sports and recreational activities. Gross motor skills include running, jumping, throwing, catching and striking. Athletic skills include chasing/tagging, dodging/deking, collecting/gathering, body movement, body manipulation and equipment manipulation. These are sets of skill that are applicable to all sport and recreational activities. By participating in multi-sport programs kids will develop their entire body in a balanced way and avoid overuse injuries. They will improve their overall athleticism that will serve them well in learning new sports or specializing later on. Most importantly, they will have the confidence and skills to play a variety of sport and recreational activities for life.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Are your kids specializing from an early age, and has the experience been positive or negative for your family?
To register for Sportplay classes, click here. Clubmom members save 10%.
About Coach Mike Perozak: Mike has been playing and coaching sports for most of his life. He is an NCCP Level 3 Certified coach in Track and Field and has coached at the national level. He has developed national level athletes with the Hamilton Olympic Club as well as creating their youth development program. He has also coached minor soccer, hockey, baseball as well as many other sports over his career. He has worked with hard to serve youth with Big Brothers, the Children’s Aid Society, the Halton Alternative Education Program and high risk group homes where he developed many of his techniques to teach skills and encourage participation. In addition, Mike has worked integrating autistic kids into regular stream high school and as a group and one-to-one recreation staff at the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital.