Argument No. 3: Sport specialization is detrimental at such a young age, as overuse injuries become the norm, often leading to the necessity to quit playing before even graduating high school.
POINT: “At the high school level, coaches are asking players to decide, ‘Are you a volleyball player, or are you a basketball player or a field hockey player, or whatever,’ Hambly states. Then they have to make a decision as freshmen in high school and that, to me, is really bad for both the health and well-being of the player––from a physical standpoint, as well as the mind and spirit.”
In the article “Coaches Take Aim at Heartache and Hardship of Early Recruiting” by Mirin Fader (espnw, 2016), Giddings Harrison, a senior high school lacrosse player, “suffered bilateral labral tears in her hips the summer before her sophomore year. Resisting surgery and bearing knife-like pain digging into her hip, she played in showcases in hopes of verballing. …
“Weekly breakdowns. Two cortisone shots. Her doctor refused to grant her a third, reasoning she wouldn’t be able to walk by 40. Division I washed away; two hip surgeries followed. Though healthy and excited to play for Washington and Lee (DIII), she has regrets. ‘That’s one thing about the early recruiting that I really hated is that I sacrificed the well being of my body to be recruited,’ Harrison said. ‘I based my self worth off of if I was committed or if this college was looking at me, and that’s not at all what a sophomore needs. As a high schooler, you should be focusing on your grades and your social life and making sure that your athletics are going well and that you’re working hard.’”
COUNTERPOINT: There really isn’t one. There are countless studies on specialization in a sport at an early age and the resulting overuse injuries. One, by J.P. DiFiori, H.J. Benjamin, J.S. Brenner et al., solidifies the argument in a nutshell. “Youth sport participation offers many benefits, including the development of self-esteem, peer socialization and general fitness. However, an emphasis on competitive success, often driven by goals of elite-level travel team selection, collegiate scholarships, Olympic and national team membership and even professional contracts, has seemingly become widespread. This has resulted in an increased pressure to begin high-intensity training at young ages. Such an excessive focus on early intensive training and competition at young ages rather than skill development can lead to overuse injury and burnout’ (DiFiori, et al., 2014).
Of course, the well-informed coach and volleyball program, no matter the level, can take steps to ensure overuse injuries are minimalized. But does it happen regularly? Unfortunately not.
Stay tuned for Chapter 6, where this discussion continues with three more arguments!