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Specialization in Sport. Is That Even Possible?

  • 2 Years, 9 Months AGO
I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with Gary Ross “Rossi” the other day for an interview. Originally from England, Rossi came to the U.S. in 1987 to accept a full soccer scholarship to Lock Haven University, where he was a two-time All-American and became the school's all-time leading scorer. He went on to play professionally for the Delaware Wizards of the United States Interregional Soccer League and later for the National Professional Soccer League's Philadelphia Kixx, Baltimore Blast and Harrisburg Heat. Since retiring as a stellar athlete, Rossi was awarded the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Master Coach Diploma at the NSCAA Convention in Baltimore, which is a very prestigious tittle. I mean, to be deemed a master in something, you must be pretty legit.

Rossi has been and continues to be an integral part of the soccer community in Pennsylvania. He currently leads the Rossi Soccer Academy, which offers progressive courses of instruction for players starting at age two and ranging to adulthood. While he dips his 28 years worth of coaching talents throughout the entire academy, his main task is coaching an upwards of 650 under 8-year-old soccer players.
In my interview with him, we spoke of a wide range of topics that are very relevant to soccer and sports today. Today’s blog post will revolve around the issue of Specialization in Sport.
What is it?
Year-round training in a single sport beginning at a relatively young age, and is, for the most part, a decision made by the parent rather than the athlete.
What are the facts?
The image below highlight the most recent findings in sport specialization.
(Sports Specialization in Kids. Joel S. Brenner, MD, MPH, FAAP)
 *27% of male athletes participating in sport today are playing (1) sport.
Why are parents specializing kids in one sport?
I mean, what part of a college education being paid for doesn’t sound interesting?
 *Parents want their children to be in the 11.3%, 1%, and maybe even that .5%!!
But lets get even more realistic here…
Did you know?
  • About 2% of high school athletes (1 in 50) went on to play at the NCAA Division I level (
  • 1 in 6,000 - Estimated number of high-school football players who will make it to the NFL (Boston Globe) 
  • 2.5 in 10,000 - High-school basketball players who will make it to the NBA (Boston Globe)
What's the reality of specialization?
Children who specialize early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment
Changing the game project
  •  A 2013 study of 1,200 young athletes showed those who concentrated on a single sport were 70 percent to 93 percent more likely to be injured than those who played multiple sports. (Boston Globe)
  • Chronic overuse injuries account for approximately 50% of new injuries in pediatric sports medicine practices. (International Youth Conditioning Association)
  • By age 13, about 70 percent of kids involved in a youth sport will have quit. One of the most cited reasons kids give for quitting is that it "isn't fun anymore." (Institute for the Study of Youth Sports? - Michigan State University)

More reality about specialization - 
  • Nearly 50 percent of college coaches who answered said to wait until the sophomore, junior or senior years of high school. Another 26 percent preferred specialization in 9th grade, while 19 percent said they prefer athletes wait until after high school to focus solely on soccer. Just 8.5 percent of coaches said they would like to see players compete in only soccer during their middle school years. (Boston Globe)

Back to Rossi - 
As a master coach who is currently working with 650 8 year olds, I was curious to hear what 28 years of master coach experience had to say about the topic.
“Listen, I’m in charge of 650 8 year olds. My job is not to make them great soccer players. If it was, this job is totally irrelevant to me. It’s about facilitating an environment where it is fun energetic, happy, with lots of smiles, praises and good feedback. My job is to instill the love of the game for the children. If the kids are loving it then that is it at the end of the day.”
"They will develop, but at those young ages it is more about motor skills. Cross training and doing various sports is essential to their development, well being, self esteem and confidence. What they may lack in soccer they may more in another sport."
"Especially in the ages 8- to even 12 kids should be playing with their friends and having fun and loving the sport instead of parents pushing their kids into one sport. It needs to be the child’s decision and not the parents."
 "It is crucial that this country has kids playing multiple sports."
 Final Thought - 
Yes the spots are limited and the chances of a scholarship are slim, but your athlete only has one chance to be young. So let them laugh, learn, fail, run, win, lose, and most importantly play so that they can love sports the way they are intended to be enjoyed.