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What Age Should Kids Focus on a Single Sport?

January 14, 2016 by HealthyFamiliesBC

What age should kids specialize in sport?

I previously wrote about why kids shouldn’t specialize in only one sport at a young age. While children start competing in some artistic and acrobatic sports (like figure skating, diving, and gymnastics) from a young age, playing other sports or games should still be encouraged. Trying out a bunch of different activities early on is the best approach – it helps children learn many movements and helps prevent burnout or injuries.

There might come a time when your child says, “I really like playing (insert sport).” 
So when is the ideal time to start focusing on one activity?

Canadian Sports for Life is an organization I am quite fond of. In their seven stage Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, the first three stages focus on physical literacy to help children develop basic movement skills before hitting puberty. These stages are:

1. Active starts
2. FUNdamental
3. Learn to train

The next three stages of the LTAD program focus on sports and competition:

4. Train to train
5. Train to compete
6. Train to win

Stages four through six are when specialization comes into play and usually coincides with ages 11-15 for girls and 12-16 for boys. Remember, these are just numbers. Physical and mental maturation are what matter most. If your child decides to enter these stages earlier, they will learn how to train, compete, rest, and learn sport-specific movements, skills and tactics.

So, what is stage seven!? In my opinion, it’s an important one:

7. Active for life

This is a stage for everyone regardless of age, health status, and sport experience. The focus is on having fun, being active, staying involved, and enjoying the health benefits of physical activity.

Keep in mind the seven stages are guidelines, nothing is set in stone. For example, one of Canada’s most decorated Olympic athletes, Clara Hughes, specialized in road cycling and long track speed skating. She didn’t focus on only one sport, but her chosen sports complemented each other.

The take home message: specialization is okay and can be beneficial, but should be done when your child is ready and with the right support, including a certified coach. Being active is a positive lifelong habit. Whether your child simply wants to play in a fun soccer league on weeknights or dreams to compete in a FIFA world cup, it all comes down to what their personal interests are.

Related blogs: 
Why Kids Should Try Many Different Sports
Physical Literacy is More than Reading and Writing

Recommended resources:
Canadian Sports for Life: Long Term Athlete Development
Human Kinetics: Late specialization is recommended for most sports



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