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No matter where you look on the internet, you’re going to find mixed reviews on whether or not your youth or high school athlete should specialize in one sport. Some will go the 10,000 hour route and argue that adolescents must have 10,000 hours under their belt in a specific sport to be an expert at it come college time. Others will remark about injury prevention, reductions in burnout, and improved success in the long run from being a multi-sport athlete. The truth is, there really isn’t a right or a wrong side to the story, though there are certainly considerations that must be taken for each. Personally, I am on the multi-sport side as I believe, for the majority of competitors, developing the athlete through adolescence is more important than perfecting skill. The National Youth Sport’s Health and Safety Institute agrees:
As a parent, I am assuming you want your child to be successful, healthy, and happy. Getting your child involved in sports was a step in the right direction and allowing them to find that drive to better themselves is easily going to transfer across multiple aspects of their lives. Although, this is typically where we start to fail in our ability to guide children through the misconceptions of sport. Whether your athlete plays multiple sports throughout the year, or specializes in one sport year round, the athlete should still have an “off-season,” the athlete should still take part in strength training during their “in-seasons,” and the athlete should have a complete 1-2 weeks recovery between seasons.
Training “in-season” for youth and high school athletes is growing in its importance as young athletes are competing in 3 or more seasons throughout the year. Specialized athletes will play on their high school team and then on a club team such as how basketball players playing on one or more AAU teams, outside of their high school team. If an athlete does not participate in strength training during their season, they may only lift for 4-6 weeks before the next season begins. And with that being the about the only break they would take all year it should be focused on rest and recovery. Athletes need 8-12 weeks of continued strength training in order to reap real benefits of training. Without proper commitment and consistency of strength training, real gains are difficult to come by. So, playing through multiple seasons of the year and not weight training will sharpen your skills, but typically these skills have a limited ceiling for potential. If you look at the higher levels of competition for sport (College, Professional, Olympic), the athletes are all extremely skilled. The factors that set the greats apart from the rest are with speed, strength and power. These factors can only truly be improved with strength training. The focus should be balanced between training the player AND the athlete within. Besides that, strength training will decrease their risk of injury especially with regards to the overuse injuries we see in so many specialized athletes today.
My Recommendation: Enroll your high school athlete in a weight training class or get them involved in a strength and conditioning program outside the school. Do NOT allow competitive events, practice dates, or conditioning times affect whether your child will strength train that day or day before. If the athlete’s worry is soreness harming their performance, inform them that soreness is a temporary part of strength training and after a few weeks, the soreness is much less intense and often times doesn’t set in at all. During the athletes “in-season” strength sessions should involved fewer sets, reps and load. During the “off-season” the reps, sets and load should be standard and the athletes diet should be monitored to ensure proper caloric intake. Every 7-8 weeks, the athlete should have a deloading week from their strength training. Don’t let the common mislead trends take a hold of your child’s ability to be successful in their sport participation. Sacrifice a season for primary focus on strength training, take those transition weeks off seriously and allow your child to just be a kid for that time, and don’t skip out on training sessions just because you have a “big game, or event,” as those days off will add up and reduce the benefits from strength training.