With the Olympics right around the corner, we will hear story after story of how one little girl practiced for hours and hours on a balance beam before she could hardly walk to make it to the podium or how one swimmer has forgone every other activity in his life to become an Olympian swimmer.
But should children focus only one sport?
Don Holl, head varsity football coach at Seneca Valley High School will address this topic on Wednesday, July 18 at 5 p.m.
His presentation is part of the free community education speaker series on wellness and healthy living presented by Revolution Physical Therapy in Cranberry Township.
“There are basically two schools of thought out there,” said Holl, a coach for over 21 years.
“One says that kids should specialize in one sport while another thinks children should develop in various sports, just like they do in school subjects,” he said.
Holl said there is a great deal of information on the topic, but “you can find research to prove just about whatever you want.”
“This is not only a subject that is prevalent in sports but more so in parenting,” said the father of five children.
In addition to serving as a coach at Seneca Valley, Holl was also coach at Gannon University and played football in high school and at the Naval Academy. With this experience—and in his role as a parent—he said is for cross-training and allowing children to explore a variety of sports.
“Sometimes a 7-year-old will love a sport because they like the uniform or their best friend is a teammate, “ Holl said, “But then the next year the name of the team may not be very cool or their don’t have any friends on the team and they don’t want to play any more. It doesn’t make any sense to force them.”
Holl suggested that just as a child wouldn’t focus on what subject, for example, just mathematics, he shouldn’t focus solely on one sport.
“Talented athletes are going to be successful—if they play a couple of different sports, it is basically cross training and exposing them to different sports,” he said.
The trend of children playing sports at younger ages and specializing is causing two issues: burnout and over-use injuries.
“Sometimes the athlete gets burned out from that sport and we lose a really good athlete because they are tired of the sport,” he said.
“We are also seeing a rash of overuse injuries. If a 12-year-old is throwing a baseball for 8 to 9 months a year, you increase the odds of injury,” he said.
Obviously as a coach, Holl is for children to try various sports, but he cautions against focusing on one sport too young, too intensely.
“Children, at a minimum, should be through puberty before they specialize—boys at about 15, girls at about 13—at least,” he said.
Even children who have trainers will often find themselves cross-training anyways, said Holl.
“The trainers will have them doing strength-building exercises and things to focus on other parts of their bodies,” he said.
Coach Holl’s will also talk about long-term athletic development, when to begin specializing in a sport, and the advantages of multi-sport training.
Members of the community are invited to the free presentation especially parents and young athletes. The seminar will include a question-answer session.
Revolution is located in their new facility at 8001 Rowan Road, the corner of Route 19 and Rowan Road at the former Safari Sam and McKinna Furniture store locations. For more information contact 724-591-8005.