Yup Tiger Woods.
Because he introduced the idea that specializing
in one sport from birth is the key to riches and
OK, not him specifically. But the idea of being
‘The Next Tiger Woods’.
The prevailing theory is that by practicing one sport
all year, the athlete will develop the skills of
that sport and become dominant. Then they’ll get
the scholarship, get the girl (so to speak), go
pro and be rich and famous.
Well that’s wrong. Flat. Out. Wrong.
But the level of knowledge of youth sports coaches
and parents is not the topic for today.
Saving your athletes from a career ending injury,
peaking at 15 or suffering burnout is.
Sport specialization before the mid-teens is a
bad idea. Think I’m an idiot or your kid or
athlete in THE exception to the rule?
Come on, we all know someone who thinks like that.
Not you of course…
Listen to Al Vermeil. Al Vermeil is the only
strength coach to have World Championship rings
from BOTH the NFL and the NBA. He is also the
only strength coach who has been in the NFL, NBA
and Major League Baseball. Al was honored by
being one of the initial inductees to the
Strength Coaches Hall of Fame in June 2003.
And he doesn’t just work with pro athletes. Here
is what he had to say in our recent interview:
But why talk theory and opinion when we can look
at real research.
According to Tudor Bompa (1999), the father of
modern program design:
“Regardless of how specialized the instruction
may become, initially there should be exposure to
multilateral (overall athletic) development to
acquire necessary fundamentals.
You can often observe extremely rapid development
in some young athletes. In such cases, it is
paramount that the instructor resist the temptation
to develop a specialized training program. A broad,
multilateral base of physical development, especially
general physical preparation, is a basic requirement
to reach a highly specialized level of physical
preparation and technical mastery. Such an approach
to training is a prerequisite for specializing in
a sport or event.
The followers of multilateral, overall training in
the early (8-15) years of athletic development will
build a solid base and avoid overuse injuries,
monotony, and staleness in training.”
Let’s look at two studies performed in two different
countries whose athletic dominance was well established
a couple decades ago. These studies prove the
validity of this generalized approach to
training young athletes, regardless of sport.
A 14 year East German study (Harre 1982) divided
a large group of 9-12 year olds. One trained under
the North American model (early specialization in
a specific sport) and the other used a general
program of participating in a variety of sports.
Nagorni’s (1978) Soviet study looked at the best
Soviet athletes. They started training at 7 or 8,
participating in a variety of sports. Specialized
sports programs started between 15-17 years old.
What were the results?
Early specializers had quick performance
improvements. I’ll give you that.
But their lifetime best performances came at age
15-16 due to quick adaptation. (Remember that college
scholarships are year to year, not 4 year deals.
Trust me, you don’t perform, they won’t keep
paying your kid to compete. There are plenty more
just like them who will.)
Early specializers had inconsistent performances
compared to their multilateral peers.
By 18 many early specializers quit the sport due
to burnout and overuse injury. Multilateral athletes
had a much longer shelf life.
Early specializers are prone to injuries because
of forced adaptation. Multilateral athletes have
The bottom line is this:
If you want your athletes to have the greatest
chance at long term success, don’t specialize them
when they are developing.
As parents it is your responsibility to think long
term. And to watch out for the (many) coaches who
only care about what they can get out of your
athletes right now.
As coaches you have to make sure you are doing what
is best for the athlete, not what is best for your
ego. And deep down you know which approach you’re
So if you want to roll the dice on your athletes or
children and hope they avoid that ACL injury,
burnout or peaking at 16, I can’t stop you.
But it’s tough to look a crying kid in the eye when
they fail to perform because they can’t meet the
level of performance at 17 that they could do when
they were 14.
Unfortunately I’ve seen it many, many times.
And I don’t want that on my conscience, do you?
The safest, most appropriate training program is
one that is based on developing the total athlete.
Complete Speed Training is that program. It isn’t
sport specific because it doesn’t need to be. It’s
not supposed to be. It’s not what your athletes
need. Follow the program and they’ll get better
at every sport they play and whatever sport you