By Hoops

Before we begin Part 3 of our look at Long Term Athlete Development, it should be noted that on Pages 8&9 of the latest edition of the City of Winnipeg's Leisure Guide (Spring/Summer 14) there is a great explanation of LTAD, its stages, and movement skill development. The guide also introduces a colour coding system that links all programs listed in the guide to the LTAD stages. This is another example of how this is now driving all amateur sport and is something that we all need to learn more about.

In the third part of our discussion of LTAD, I would like to look at the question of specialization, i.e. when is it appropriate for young athletes to choose to play only one sport? It appears that the recent trend in many sports, including basketball, is for young athletes to make this choice to specialize at a younger and younger age. This is totally contrary to the principles of Long Term Athlete Development. There are some early specialization sports like gymnastics but most sports, like basketball, are classified as late specialization. It is recommended that specialization not occur before the age of 13 or 14, or even later. Specializing too early can contribute to lack of basic movement and sport skills, overuse injuries, early burnout and early retirement.

A recent article on the Basketball Manitoba website was entitled "When Did Steve Nash Start Playing Basketball?" and it states that he did not even start playing the game until he was 12 or 13 years old. He played multiple sports which helped him develop into a great overall athlete before he became a basketball player. He developed a passion for the game himself rather than having pressure put on him by adults, including parents and coaches, and he had plenty of free play without adult supervision and instruction where he learned to love sport in general.

I remember reading a newspaper article in 2012 regarding the MHSAA 'AAAA" volleyball championships and a description of a young man who had lost all of his Grade 11 season due to "an overuse injury". This begs the question - how could a 17 year old have an overuse injury? The answer could be related to early specialization and the repetition of the same actions from a very young age. There could have been other factors, but it is my opinion that no 17 year old should have an overuse injury related to sport.

Furthermore, it should be mentioned that the pressure to specialize on young athletes can come from parents who may have had a career in basketball themselves or from coaches who, based on the limited athlete pool in Manitoba, may advise and possibly pressure players to only play that sport year-round because they may fear losing that athlete to another sport. However, based on the sound logic behind LTAD, we are not helping these young people in their athletic careers even if we think we are.

A good quote from the LTAD literature, which is directed to parents, states, "As a parent, you should talk to your child's coaches if you sense they are pushing your child to specialize prematurely. Children need to develop as athletes before they become specialized as players. " To me that says it all.

As usual, I welcome any comments below.

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