Specialization or Else?

I admit I’m from a different time and place. Still, I hate hearing about young players are giving up other sports and interests to specialize in softball.  The prevailing thought seems to be that a player must devote all their time to working on their game if they want to get ahead. And ultimately, earn that college scholarship.

I have some concerns with specialization:

Over-use injuries: The number of players migrating to the college game with overuse injuries is at an all-time high. Almost 80% of the players on my last team had surgery to correct these types of injuries.

The human body can only take so much pounding and softball, like baseball, is a destructive game. Most of the movements our kids are continually practicing — throwing, pitching and hitting — are inherently damaging to the human body.

Burnout: It’s a real consequence of players spending too much time on the game. The physical wear and tear is part of the issue. I feel this also leads to mental anguish. When my body hurts, it affects my mood and my emotional state. I can’t believe this is less true of kids and teenagers.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of mental anguish to go around too.  The pressure applied by parents to perform, and of course earn that scholarship, is a real weight for these kids to carry. The long and painful discussions on the ride home after a mistake or bad at-bat can be overwhelming. Don’t you know she already knew she struck out, or popped up, or walked too many hitters?

Thirdly, I believe many kids would benefit athletically from playing other sports.  I have said for a long time that the best combination I’ve seen is soccer and softball.  Soccer players have to learn to use their bodies in such different ways because the game is played on their feet.  There are many situations where a softball player would benefit from the ability to manipulate their body like soccer kids do.

Having said that, I do think that most other sports teach different skills and attributes that translate well to our game. Concentration and focus in golf, toughness and conditioning from basketball, explosiveness and power from volleyball and endurance from swimming all would benefit softball players. It’s a shame to see these skills sacrificed for the full time commitment to softball.

So now let’s really cut to the chase. Most kids who quit other sports to specialize in softball don’t really spend the time they are gaining on softball. When your daughter quits basketball, is she really spending those two or three hours a day on softball?

Come on now. Be real here!

The answer is almost always no. It is true that the athlete has given up something with the intention of using that time productively on their softball skills. In reality, the kid who really does it is very, very rare.

My experience tells me they start off meaning to really commit to their game but it gradually falls off and before you know it, the extra time they were “gaining” by quitting something else is spent on their phones or computer.

Let your player specialize on having a complete and well-rounded life.  We’ll all end up happier.

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