Ask the Expert: Should My Child Specialize in One Sport?

Ask the Expert: Should My Child Specialize in One Sport?

Wondering if your child is too young to specialize in one sport? Monica Holmes, founder of a youth fitness consulting firm in Manhattan, explains what age is best to begin specialization and why your child should try out multiple sports at first.

child swimming

What age is best to specialize in a sport?

Specialization in a single sport before the age of 10 is becoming more common. Parents and coaches often encourage this practice, thinking it will lead to athletic success and possibly an athletic scholarship. But less than 1 percent of high school athletes nationwide will receive an athletic scholarship and very few of those are "full rides." Plus, specializing in a sport before the age of 10 can increase the chance of burnout. Therefore, experts believe that the ages of 12 to 13 are optimal to specialize in a sport.


Let your child play multiple sports.

Before your child can be great at any sport, he or she must be an athlete first. Early specialization hinders overall athletic development, while playing different sports will help your child develop a variety of skills. A great approach is to have your child play a team sport and an individual sport, such as basketball and martial arts. Another possibility is to combine indoor sports and outdoor sports, such as ice hockey and soccer. It is positive to change up the activity. Laying the foundation between the ages of 6 and 12 is beneficial so when your child does find a single sport that he wants to focus on, the fundamentals are already there. Basic athletic, tactical, and perceptual skills are transferable to all sports. Many successful athletes have backgrounds in sports other than the one they participate in, and most often they were involved in an activity that provided transferable fundamentals.

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Sports should be enjoyable, with an opportunity to learn and grow.

A few questions to ask before your child participates in a sport are: What is my child going to learn from it? Will this help build a foundation for future activities? Is she/he going to enjoy it? Choosing a sport for your child should not be a stressful process. Find out what your child is really interested in and start investigating. Children are often interested in what they see. Go to sporting events and engage in conversations about the activity with your child. Parents and older siblings involved in sports are great examples for younger children. The activity needs to be a learning experience, and it needs to be enjoyable. If the fun factor is missing—no matter how good they are—they will not be interested in it for very long.


Monica Holmes is a former NCAA Division I volleyball coach who served as head coach of the volleyball team at Columbia University. She is also the founder of Movement Consulting, a youth fitness consulting firm located in Manhattan. For more information, call 212-203-9925 or visit