Specializing at a young age will stunt your growth, not enhance it
According to USA Hockey, colleges and universities across the country are recruiting talented and skilled ice hockey players before they even start high school. Verbal commitments are being made between prospects and perennial powerhouses like the University of Wisconsin. Talented players who don’t want to go the university route are opting for the main youth system in Canada and then turning pro at the young age of 18 or 19. There is a growing number of very young players in the National Hockey League, with some of them being named captains of their professional squads such as Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. The rise of young athletes taking on key roles in the elite circles of Division 1 and professional sports has younger players thinking that specialization is the way forward. Ice hockey isn’t the only sport that identifies talent at unusually young ages. Major soccer colleges are finding players just starting high school. Much can be said about the physical and mental development of an athlete in high school and college. Schools like Yale University will not consider a young recruit for their varsity sports because they realize how much mentality can change for a teenager between the ages of 14 and 18. To them, academic integrity is just as important as athletic performance. Therefore, making a guarantee four years in advance is not attractive to them. They want to see where that candidate will be in the future before committing. What happened to waiting and buying the best? We don’t elect presidents 4 years before they are sworn in, why should we choose which jersey an athlete will wear before they get there? If you keep the competition to play close to the real time that they will, the road to getting there is going to be more about process and development.
Ten years ago, athletes were thought to need more time to develop and gain a competitive advantage. In ice hockey, graduate programs (PG years) in high schools and junior teams were common staples to draw attention to competitive college hockey programs. It was thought that to get the edge, you needed time to develop physically and mentally, as well as gain the experience of playing with other like-minded athletes. When you knew you had a long way to go to reach the collegiate and professional ranks, specializing in your sport at age 12 wasn’t the smart thing to do. Parents, coaches and experts worried that applying too much pressure at a young age to perform and excel would cause players to burn out prematurely.
Performance development coaches like myself believe that while players should focus primarily on two sports, their programs should incorporate the skills and abilities necessary to perform well in 10 other sports or activities. Even if you don’t play baseball, ice hockey players have the ability to go into a batting cage and hit a high percentage of pitches. Hockey players who can play baseball well will have better reaction times on the ice and will be better able to react to flying pucks from a high throw or when fielding a bad pass. Similarly, playing soccer is great for the development of a budding ice hockey player because many highly skilled players are very good at carrying and handling the puck with their feet. Whether your main sport is baseball or ice hockey, you can learn a lot by playing other sports like tennis, soccer, etc.
The spectrum is wide when it comes to what parents think their children should do. Some want their kids to be like Sidney Crosby and force them to major at age 8 and others want their kids to just have fun and do whatever they want for as long as they want. Both approaches are bad. Specializing or being aloof is bad. The key is to keep intensity, attention, stimulation, and vigor high with low expectations and pressure. Young athletes must be taught discipline, passion, love of training and the sport, and heart. The road to intercollegiate and professional sports is a long one. The people who make it and stay there are the ones who love the unglamorous aspects, the long road trips, the sweat, the low pay (most professional athletes pay isn’t like ARod), the unforgiving schedule and the inherent uncertainty that comes from a profession that is so fluid, where one day the best team wants you and the other team that will look at you is the worst team’s farm club.
Success comes from love for what you do, whatever it is. The day it becomes work is the day you know it might be time to consider a new path. Athletes playing for glory are in for a rude awakening. Athletes who can weather adversity and overcome it through hard work and staying focused are the ones who truly love what they do. The change for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team shows an outstanding determination, will and passion to improve and surpass themselves. They didn’t care to play as well as perennial powerhouses like the Boston Red Sox. They played the game the way they knew best and defined their run to the World Series in their own way and on their terms. The way they went from the worst team in major professional baseball to the runner-up in the World Series is an example of how individual athletes should approach their development. You can’t go out there and just participate for the win. Unfortunately, pure desire is not enough to get you there. You must be willing and able to do underappreciated and underappreciated hard work. By doing so, you put yourself in a better position to start doing well.
As a sports development coach, I am useless to the person who just wants to play in a recreational league and get fanfare when he scores. When someone is ready to work hard, put in long hours and sweat, I am the perfect person for them. I will help you get where you want. There is no glamor to what I do, apart from the satisfaction in myself, knowing that I had a role in helping an athlete demonstrate his abilities to an audience. I do what I do because I have a love and passion for sports.
The key to professional happiness is to specialize in a commitment to work hard. Anything else you do to get ahead will come later. Don’t worry about the nodes you’re getting at 14 for college sports. Keep your head down and focus on getting better. Many things can happen in high school. If you keep your options open at 14, you’ll have more to fall back on when you’re 18.
If you major at 14 in football and you don’t do well, there will be nothing else you can turn to. If you play multiple sports and do well in a couple of them, if one doesn’t bring you pay or fame, maybe the other does. The more options you have, the less pressure you’ll feel on yourself to excel at one, making it more enjoyable. Nobody wants to think that everything depends on how you do in one thing.
Keep your options open and have fun, but remember that you won’t get better without working hard. So decide what your priorities are and then go from there. If you don’t want to break a sweat or do the necessary things to improve your game, then don’t expect to play at the next level. There is nothing wrong with playing pickup games. You have to be honest with yourself about your skill level and willingness to put in the time to do it. Sidney Crosby, Eli Manning, Tom, Brady, Michael Jordan and the like didn’t get where they got by simply gliding through life. They evaluated their abilities and accordingly decided where they wanted to go. Once they did that, they worked tirelessly to make sure they got there. That due diligence is why they all excelled in the professional arena.
The key to take away from this article is that you need more determination than skill. And more importantly, you need more love than determination. Therefore, you need more love than skill. If you don’t enjoy what you do, it won’t matter how skilled you are because you won’t want to do it anymore. Being focused is different from specializing. Practice many sports. Get active in lots of different things. Do it because you love it. You can decide later which one will allow you to do it in college or professionally. You will benefit more from playing other sports and training for those sports than from spending all that time training for one sport. My program is so effective because despite its focus, I expose you to movements and exercises common to other activities, making you a more well-rounded, well-rounded athlete.
Stay tuned for more articles from DSWAthletes, owned and managed by Derrick Wong. We write about everything related to sports. We want to help you get where you want to go and enjoy both the process and the result. We will help you stay focused and in good shape.