Youth sports are a booming industry, with families looking for athletics that challenge their kids year-round. It’s not just football, baseball, and basketball anymore; hockey, lacrosse, and tennis are gaining more popularity as alternatives to the more traditional sports. Even more recently created sports like parkour are being adjusted for kids and teens.
The plethora of sports allows kids of all backgrounds to find ways to be active, but it creates an interesting challenge for parents. Leagues are now becoming almost year-round. For instance, baseball isn’t just being played in the summer. Batting cages and indoor fields allow teams to meet in the colder months and get their practice in, staying sharp before games begin in the spring. But what if your child wants to play multiple sports? Is there a price to pay for having your child specialize in a single sport rather than changing their focus periodically?
Jordan Kobritz says yes. Kobritz is the Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland, as well as a professor in the program. He recently wrote an article for the Daily Courier about the question of specialization. Since getting involved with professional baseball in 1981 (he is the former owner of Minor League Baseball teams the Maine Guides in the AAA International League and the Daytona Cubs in the Single A Florida State League, and is a current investor in two other MiLB teams), Kobritz has studied how sports impact the kids who play the game, including speaking with the lucky few who made it.
“I have talked with hundreds of players over the past four decades about their path to professional baseball. While many have specialized in one sport, not all of them have. And even those who did specialize recommend playing multiple sports.”
From his time speaking with experts and studying the issue, he has found that focusing on one sport too early can lead to burnout or injury. Also, if you choose a sport to which your child doesn’t want to commit, it can turn them off to athletics altogether. He recommends waiting until high school or later, when they are physically and mentally more mature, and commitment to a single sport is often necessary.
Kobritz is of course a believer in the usefulness of youth sports overall. In his mind, the pros massively outweigh the cons. The physical benefits are clear: youth athletics help get kids moving, during a time when more and more time is spent staring at a screen. Despite beliefs to the contrary, Kobritz also believes that sports can help kids academically. He has observed how playing sports teaches kids discipline, time management, and focus, all of which are vital to success in academia and business. Finally, Kobritz believes playing sports allows kids to create and maintain friendships with their peers while working towards a common goal.
“Team sports especially teach kids how to work together, a must to accomplish virtually anything in the ‘real world.’”
If Kobritz had a child of his own, he would want him to play baseball because he loves the game but also due to the lowered chance of injuries. He would also support his child if he wanted to play basketball, hockey, or tennis. However, he would be against his child playing football because of the overall violence and increasing evidence of concussions at the youth level.
Parents have to decide how their children approach athletics. Maybe your child has a passion for only one sport at a young age. But with youth sports getting more specialized, including travel teams and showcases at younger ages, parents should keep in mind that often, the best way to help your kid succeed with a basketball is replacing it with a soccer ball.
To find out more about Professor Kobritz, read more of his writing at sportsbeyondthelines.com