By: Gordon Miller
VYSA Technical Director
More and more we are hearing how important it is for parents to put their kids in soccer-related activities all year long or their child will fall behind. Not only do the children now play their regular fall and spring soccer seasons, but some play their travel season and high school season at the same time. More are playing in summer leagues that are popping up all over the place. Most travel players go to a variety of tournaments (anywhere from 2-8) throughout the year. On top of that they must also get involved in indoor play during the winter, camps during the summer, private training (it might be soccer related, or the ever popular speed and conditioning work). For success to occur, it’s critical to the players’ development not to play any other sports and just specialize entirely in soccer - all the time. Isn’t it?
There are a few sports that do require early specialization to obtain the highest levels of performance. Figure skating, diving and gymnastics are a few that come to mind. These are highly technical sports that require specific, choreographed moves at designated times during set routines. These athletes hit their peak at a relatively young age. Athletes in late-specialization sports such as basketball, hockey and soccer don’t hit their peak until their mid to late 20’s. In these sports, there are no opponents to get around. There are no multiple decisions on when to pass, dribble or shoot. There is no physical contact from others as they are trying to displace you from the ball. However, specializing in soccer, exclusive of all other activities, is not an instant recipe for success.
By playing soccer all the time and specifically too early in a child’s development there is risk of a multitude of potential consequences:
1. Overuse injuries
2. Inadequate development in basic body movements and other sport skills
3. Early burn-out
4. One-dimensional sport-specific preparation
5. Too much/too soon and early sport retirement
Some highly acclaimed professional athletes played a variety of sports growing up. In fact, many of them played their “other” sports well into their high school careers. And, it didn’t seem to harm their rise to the top:
· Kobe Bryant (NBA)-soccer
· April Heinricks (Former Head Women Coach: US Soccer)-basketball
· Wayne Gretzky (NHL)-baseball and lacrosse
· Michael Jordan (NBA)-baseball
· Lisa Leslie-Lockwood (WNBA)-volleyball and track
· Peyton Manning (NFL)-baseball and basketball
· Steve Nash (NBA)-soccer, hockey
· Alex Ovechkin (NHL)-soccer and basketball
· Jerry Rice (NFL)-track and basketball
It’s extremely important to develop the whole body in relation to balance, speed, power, agility and flexibility. Playing other sports will aid in that development. Other sports can add to a child’s growth through the acquisition of additional motor-skill development and added psychological situations from which to draw upon. Plus, it is fun to have another set of friends with a different set of social experiences. Allow your children to play other sports, encourage their participation and support them in their efforts. They will be glad you did.