Everyone knows the phrase and has their own way of thinking about and applying it. However, it doesn’t just have to mean that you’re a handyman, chef, and the next coming of Bob Ross. Certainly, intellectual variety is necessary to become successful and confident in your ability to move through life, but one should also consider the benefits of diversifying physical skills. Those in the Crossfit community are already aware of this idea and its importance. The ability to go from lifting a heavy object and then immediately jump over an obstacle or run a great distance does have carry over to how we interact and react to the world around us. Having a general preparedness for lifting a load overhead may not be as drastically literal as hoisting a 100-pound box in the air then dropping it to the floor, but the body mechanics, stability, strength, and endurance you develop could be the difference between spraining your ankle when stepping in a pothole or just having a mildly embarrassing stumble.
This general preparedness is an important concept to be considered in adults, especially as we age, but this shouldn’t just be an idea for adult recreational or even pro-athletes. Children require this approach just as much, if not even more as they develop. We do our best to raise the youngest and most adaptive among us with exposure to multiple and varying experiences. It allows them to find interests for enjoyment and passions to guide them forward. Sports are often a common opportunity for physical, social, and intellectual growth. They also allow a healthy competitive outlet. However, there are many ways for this to become detrimental for children, if not taken with the right approach.
We’ve all seen or heard the stories of the prodigy child athlete and the lengths they went through to be the best or go pro. Stories of being on a court or field for several hours a day, reviewing plays or specific movements countless times, and spending the time not practicing watching film. While this approach can be detrimental on its own when not properly applied, the greater concern is what happens when this is taken toward the extremes of “dedication.” This is in reference to the young athletes who play and practice their sport of choice year-round with no variation. This can often be due to the understanding that constant exposure to a stimulus develops skill and competency in relation to the stimulus. This concept of commitment to a sole sport is known as Sports Specialization and can be controversial in the world of fitness and health, especially with prepubescent athletes. While these young athletes can develop a high level of skill at their chosen sport, they can fall into a very narrow range of physical preparedness. Consequences of this approach include increased injury risk and psychological impact that leads to participation drop-out and decreased motivation. One example of injury among these athletes, is pitchers having a higher rate of injury when pitching greater than 8 months out of the year. This is likely due to the simple exposure to a greater volume of pitching and could be remedied by encouraging the child to play in soccer or basketball, sports that place less emphasis on high-velocity throwing.
While this topic is deep and multifaceted, this brief introduction is meant to alert those working with child athletes, whether as a coach or a parent, to the potential hazards associated with participating in one sport year-round with no variation in skill development or set of extended recovery periods. This doesn’t have to mean avoiding physically challenging activities completely but selecting another avenue that shifts load to a previously neglected body region. It should also serve as a reminder to us young, middle-aged, and well-experienced adult athletes to take this approach in our own health and fitness journeys.
You can do further research into this topic by looking into peer-reviewed articles, such as this one:
Jayanthi N, Pinkham C, Dugas L, Patrick B, Labella C. Sports specialization in young athletes: evidence-based recommendations. Sports Health. 2013;5(3):251-257. doi:10.1177/1941738112464626