PGA Pro Tips: Should My Junior Specialize Early In Golf?
There is an increasing level of pressure for juniors to specialize early in one sport. But is it a good thing? Parents ask us "Is specializing early what it takes to produce the next Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth?"
The answer, according to emerging research, is no.
Parents naturally want the best for their kids, and on the surface early specialization seems to make sense. They see other parents doing it, they see other kids winning young, and then mistakenly think it is the path they must take too.
here is a fear that if their child is not winning tournaments by age 8 or 9 they will fall hopelessly behind. The truth is that early specialists may achieve early success, but there is no evidence showing it leads to success at a later age.
On the contrary specializing in one sport before age 14 may do more harm than good, setting kids up for failure as teens. Early specialization puts them at greater risk of injury. It creates unhealthy psychological stress. It leads to a higher burn-out rate. Kids actually become less likely to play the sport as an adult. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that early specialization keeps kids from developing their overall athleticism - the explosive speed, strength, agility, endurance, and gross motor coordination it takes to succeed.
Early achievers are often eclipsed by more well-rounded athletes in high school and college. The reason is that playing multiple sports allows the whole body to develop, not just the sport-specific muscles. Multi-sport kids develop better balance, quickness, and core strength. It may take longer for the athlete to emerge, but well-rounded athletes have better overall motor skills, longer careers, increased motivation, and more confidence.
The key point we convey to parents is that skills are transferable between sports. The explosive speed needed for soccer and hockey will show up in more club head speed and distance. The balance required for gymnastics and skating will improve consistency. The hand-eye coordination from baseball and tennis will lead to better ball-striking.
Almost all the players on the PGA Tour were multi-sport athletes as kids. Jordan Spieth was an outstanding quarterback, pitcher (throws left-handed) and point guard. Tiger can play almost anything, Dustin can dunk, Sergio plays tennis, Phil can pitch, Rickie rode dirt-bikes, and the list goes on. The US Olympic Committee found that on average Olympians played in three sports through age 14.
Parents need to resist the temptation to specialize their kids too early in one sport and to recognize the long-term benefits of cross-training in multiple sports. We believe golf is one of the sports kids should learn golf at an early age, because it is a game they will play for life. But we encourage them to play at least one complementary sport as well.