Football, cross-country, soccer, swimming, basketball, volleyball, hockey, track and field, lacrosse, golf, baseball, softball, field hockey.
How many of our kids play one of these? How many play two? Three? Four?
It is an ongoing debate - sport specialization vs. playing multiple sports for young athletes. Is there a correct answer? I'm not sure. Stories of star athletes who began training at a young age and attained elite status are out there, certainly. This is a family choice and, whatever side of the argument you may fall upon, you will have supporters and detractors.
As baseball coaches, our job is to coach the players who are in front of us, regardless of their chosen "development plan". A family's preferences should not affect our coaching effort or style. Keep our opinions on the subject to ourselves -, unless asked about it. The more each player/coach relationship deepens, conversations like this will present themselves easily and often. Some of our most important coaching moments are away from the field.
Adding to the concept of sport specialization is the idea of youth baseball players who are looking to "master" a single position - position specialization. I always find it interesting talking to young parents of 12- and 13-year-old kids, who assume that, because they played shortstop or catcher, or first base all through the Little League or U12 travel season, that they must stay there for their career. There is a time when a HS junior or senior may need to find a "home" position as they look to dive into the recruiting process - although value in the "utility" player, who can play multiple roles, has increased at the college and professional levels.
A point to remember - as players advance, the likelihood of sitting the bench increases. Players become more talented and competition for playing time is intense. Time served does not equal more playing time in the elite levels of baseball. It often takes mental stamina to wait for your opportunity to perform and keeping sharp when the time comes to play. Be a good teammate, wait your turn, and be ready to perform.
Players, please do not reject an opportunity to play another position on the ballfield. It will help you gain the respect of teammates and coaches. Plus, you expand baseball knowledge and aptitude by knowing more positions. When the time comes, you, your coaches, and family will find your home on the field. Even then, you may eventually be asked to change! Be willing and ready.
Young ballplayers, in this world of travel ball, showcases, and video scouting, are tempted to become a "PO", or "Pitcher Only". Often, that choice occurs too soon. It is viewed as the perfect alternative for players (and parents) to find a home on one of (too) many elite travel teams.
It is unfortunate that some coach should suggest to a 12-, 13-, or 14-year-old that they should be a PO. Who knows what can happen physically between ages 12 and 16? I know I don't. Parents and coaches - let's keep encouraging rather than labeling young players.
Sport specialization does not necessarily equate to more playing time. Finding the right team who will allow a young player, prior to age 16, the chance to play multiple positions, is the way to gain valuable baseball experience. In order to "specialize" it is important to perform as often as possible. Good competition is important. Game experience is usually a priority for young players. Those who play tend to develop faster than those who observe. Young kids should find a place to play - a lot.
Whether you sports specialize or diversify, seek the enjoyment in what you are doing. Stay true to yourself. Listen to those your love and trust, then believe in what you have set out to do.
Set your thoughts toward your ultimate success and find opportunities to improve whenever possible. Don't wait in line - take your turn and go after your greatness on your terms.