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Be an Athlete

There has been an overemphasis placed on specialization for youth in sports lately. This is caused by a trickle-down effect from the pros. Everyone wants to know what the pros do, and with all the different media avenues available, seeing what they do has never been easier. The problem is that they are at the age and point in their careers that specialization is beneficial for them, but young athletes are not.

Specializing as an athlete at a young age is the equivalent of building a nice house on a poor foundation. In order to specialize in a sport or a skill set within a sport, you need access to a set of foundational skills. These foundational skills are developed through exposing yourself to different situations which comes from playing different sports.

There is a strong connection between your mind and your body. When you perform a skill or movement for the first time, a neural pathway is developed. This allows you to perform that movement again more efficiently in the future. The prime ages when youth develop a lot of their athletic attributes like balance, hand-eye coordination, reaction time and proprioception is during the early teens. This is because at this age, the brain is gong through a process called myelination. Myelination is a maturing process of the brain where neurons communicate faster, more efficiently, and in a more coordinated fashion that allows the brain to become more integrated. Simply put, this is a prime time to develop athletic skills and attributes.

Unfortunately, sports have changed so much that these are the ages that athletes are starting to specialize in one sport, which only exposes them to the stimulus found in that particular sport. In essence, it is hindering athletic development. A much better option would be to play as many sports as possible during the early teenage years to widen your athletic foundation. With a more comprehensive athletic base, you can increase your ability to specialize in your given sport as you get older.

Let’s not forget that there are plenty of other benefits to playing multiple sports in your early teenage years, including expanding your social and networking circles and opening yourself up to different experiences. The truth is that the majority of athletes will never play their sport professionally, and the opportunities for young athletes to experience different sports shrinks as they get older. Take advantage of the opportunity while you can – there is plenty of time to specialize as you get older. And when that time comes, the better overall athlete you are, the better you will be able to specialize.

Don’t just be a football or soccer or basketball or hockey player. Be an athlete!

Until next time,

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen