10 years ago sports parents and coaches started hopping on board the 10,000-hour rule made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his best selling book Outliers. Gladwell’s theory was that by starting kids early and having them practice year-round they could reach the 10,000-hour mark.
That is the benchmark for the amount of time put in Gladwell argues will make kids experts in their sport. In turn that will help them get a college scholarship, professional contract, maybe Olympic glory, and sometimes just make their own high school team.
Now, a decade later, experts across the board agree early specialization does more harm than good. It can lead to injury, burnout, and often quitting the specialized sport.
David Epstein, the author of the New York Times best seller, The Sports Gene; Inside The Science Of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, has long been warning parents and coaches about the pitfalls of early specialization. The Sports Gene is a fascinating study of nature vs. nurture in elite athletes. In a recent conversation ILTWYP asked David about his thoughts and research on sports specialization. Here are 6 important takeaways from that conversation.
IT’S NOT ONLY PARENTS’ FAULT
The system currently in place is because of economics – youth sports drives a lot of business for clubs, leagues, equipment, travel, and hospitality. It’s big business and it feeds on the anxiety of the parents. The 6-year-old travel teams lead to the 7-year-old travel team, which if your child doesn’t play at that age, how will they ever make it onto the 10-year-old travel team, which is a pipeline for the high school team, etc? The system has created massive FOMO (fear of missing out) and a belief that your child will never be able to catch up if you don’t join in. It all starts with money though, those who can’t afford it, can’t sign up. Read more