More evidence against early soccer specialization

The evidence is mounting against early sport specialization. As with many things in modern culture, the ‘more is better’ attitude has lead to excesses…gigantic buffets, supersized houses?and gas guzzling?sport utility vehicles are all examples. But this attitude has also made it’s way in to the world of sport with many parents and youth coaches believing that early specialization is the key to longterm success in sports. As with most things, this is not a black or white issue. Not all sports are equal. Not all players are equal. And I’m certainly not going to say that some level of specialization isn’t important for success or that long term development doesn’t sometimes hinge on players successfully making it through critical age group windows. But there’s?a find line when it comes to?answering the?’when is the best time to specialize’?question. Good coaches should consider everything from their long term sport development to their long term health. ?Here’s a recent study which suggests that heavy soccer playing before the age of 12 may lead to later hip deformities. The primary finding of the study on Dutch professional footballers was that those players who?who started practicing 4+ times per week?at?the age of 12 were more likely to have cam deformities of the hip that was about 150% more likely?than their peers who played less than 4 times per week at 12. It’s important to note that the average player in the study (all professionals) started playing at an amateur level around age six. These results indicate that early introduction to a sport may be important to future success but specialization in that sport should?progress cautiously with both professional and long term health benefits in mind.

specializationOn a related note, here’s an interesting graphic that showed up on several of my social media feeds about Ohio State’s 2015 NCAA champion football (the American kind) team that shows that just like with buffets and SUVs….more isn’t always better.

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Mike Young

Director of Performance at Athletic Lab
Mike is the Head Fitness Coach for the North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC. He is also the owner and Director of Performance at Athletic Lab sports performance training center. He previously served as the fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Carolina Railhawks. He has a PhD in Biomechanics, an MS in Coaching Science, and a BSS in Exercise Physiology and has coached Olympic and professional athletes in Skeleton, Track & Field, MLS and NASL Soccer, PGA Golf, NFL Football, MLB Baseball and Olympic Weightlifting. He has lectured around the world and authored 2 books and dozens of research and coaching articles.
Category : Training