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How early should a young athlete begin specializing for sport?

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine
A young athlete should begin specializing for sport when he/she is capable of utilizing and optimizing his/her innate talents, musculature, interests, motivation, inclination, and endurance to stay focused and disciplined with proper training and coaching.
As stated by the NASM, there are different sports that will have different times that specialization should start. Most sports relay on general fitness components that can be met by participating in multiple sports. Remember that starting a young athlete too early can cause them to burn out and not like the sport as much. Giving the athlete time to try a different sport can keep balance, while continuing to stay fit.
Certain sports have an earlier specialization requirement than others. A short list of early specialization sports includes, but is not limited to: gymnastics, figure skating, diving, tennis, etc. These sports require young athletes to make an early commitment so that the acquired necessary skills coincide with prime physiological markers based on age and development. In addition, numerous considerations must be made to promote proper psychological development for young athletes; especially those competing on a high level at an early age. Choosing to participate in earlier specialization sports is a significant endeavor that should not be treated lightly. For the sake of the child's health, development, and success all decisions should be made on a case by case basis. For other sports that have been termed "late specialization" sports, athletes should develop their athletic capacity, skill development, and competitive interaction progressively. All team sports, combative, endurance, and racing sports typically require considerably more maturity to harness the necessary skills and attributes to participate appropriately. As the athlete proceeds from adolescence into adulthood there will be a point to decide whether true specialization should occur if their abilities meet with opportunity to further a competitive career.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.