Of the millions of kids pinging soccer balls around at weekend tournaments, only a small fraction will make it to a Division 1 college team. Just a sliver of that group will reach the pros. Increasingly, those long odds push athletes (often at the behest of parents) to select a single sport in order to grind out a competitive edge. But mounting evidence shows that clearing a child’s schedule of all other recreation might sabotage their shot at the big leagues.
Players are picking their games earlier and earlier. The average high-school athlete in 2016 had focused on a single sport since age 12, two years younger than those in college that same year. To compete, the logic goes, tykes need to focus on one thing as soon as possible, and do more of it: year-round practices and hours of drills. “Parents, athletes, and coaches do this because they think it’ll help them get to an elite level,” says Neeru Jayanthi, a leading researcher on young athletes and specialization at Emory University.