Leslie Huntington is the head softball coach at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. The following are her observations on what she sees as a growing problem in youth sports specialization, as outlined in detail in the article, “Arizona Softball and Baseball Coaches Concerned About Overuse of High School Athletes”:
by Leslie Huntington
These are the OPINIONS I’ve formed from being in the profession – not from formal research or literature reviews, but by living this every day:
1. Specialization – remember when kids played a different sport every season? And remember when you got asked, “What’s your favorite sport?” And your answer was, “During volleyball season, VB is my favorite, and during basketball season, that’s my favorite, and during softball season, that’s my favorite.” Every season was “fresh.” So every time you changed to a different sport, it was exciting. YOU KEPT LOVING THE GAME.
What I see happening as a result of specialization:
A. Kids “lose their fire” WAY too early. They participate in “their” sport as many days of the year (or maybe in some cases, more) than a college athlete. (even college athletes are given time off) And when they get to college, they realize they have a chance to quit. They have new found freedom and independence and suddenly they realize there are other things to do that can occupy their time.
B. The wear and tear on the same body parts WILL eventually result in a breakdown. It’s quite simple – OVERUSE. Add to this the potential that they are using inefficient/poor mechanics – that breakdown is going to happen much sooner.
C. Loss of athleticism – a variety of sports and the activities that go with those sports, helps create more athleticism. Different movements (multi-directional), and different body parts developing speed/agility and function, leads to increased athleticism. As part of our dynamic warm up for practice I will occasionally have my players jump rope. Why can I jump rope 10 times better than they can, at over twice their age? I am amused by how puzzled they look when I jump rope. I had a player once who was warming up for practice jumping rope and I grabbed one and started to do a variety of footwork things while jumping – her comment was “Why are you so good at that and what did you do with my coach?” LOL
2. Competition – this article nails this one. As a college coach, I want to see prospective student-athletes COMPETE. At a tournament in the middle of July when I’m watching a kid play 4 pool play games when it’s 100 degrees outside, how much do I get to see them COMPETE? I know some of you will say “Well they should compete ALL the time,” and I agree. But let’s be real here. Not gonna happen.
In this same category we can discuss young kids playing multiple games in a day and the potential for injury. Not to mention the mental and emotional toll this type of schedule takes. Again, some will say, this is teaching them to be mentally tough. To that I would say I disagree. Kids aren’t born mentally tough – they can have a level of “toughness” but they have to be TAUGHT mental toughness. And you don’t teach a kid how to be mentally tough by yelling at them to “get tougher!”
3. Exposure – So why do kids do all this specialization? Why have they decided that camps are a waste of time and money and they need to travel across the country every weekend to “compete?” It’s for “exposure.”
It seems to me that they are all seeking the opportunity to play at the next level.
I get it – if you don’t go to that tournament you might miss out on that college coach seeing you play. I’m in the same boat – if I don’t go to that showcase, and all my competitors are there, I might miss out on that key recruit.
But when you attend these “exposure” events, be realistic with what age group college coaches are recruiting. How can I recruit an 8th grader when I don’t even know who she’ll be replacing on my team???
To think that a softball player who is my nephew’s age is making a decision on where to attend college is nothing short of ridiculous. My nephew’s biggest dilemma on a daily basis is which Star Wars movie to watch. I can’t IMAGINE him making a college decision right now and if he did, I’d have a major discussion with him and his parents.
In all honesty, and I say this with no ill-will toward any colleagues, but I really hope these early verbals start to bite coaches in the rear. The real people who have the ability to do something about this craziness are the college coaches (and I include myself in that lot – hence the diatribe here). And once one of the “big names” gets bit, things will start to change.
Bottom line – I want kids who are excited to play softball. Kids who have played multiple sports – because I believe those are the kids who will continue to love and have passion for the game. I want kids who are going to compete every day – because after this phase of their life is over, they are going to have to compete every day OFF the softball field. I want kids who find joy in playing the game, because if you can’t find joy in playing the game, it’s really time to hang up your cleats. You’re not going to make any team better, and you’re going to be miserable.
So I guess the real question for all of us is ……. “Why?”
We want to thank Coach Leslie Huntington for permission to reprint this from her original Facebook post. You can comment and connect with Coach Huntington at @BlugoldCoachH on Twitter, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org