Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
20 Feb 2016
6:00 am

The pros and cons of sports specialisation

Sean Van Staden

Athletes have an increased likelihood of debilitating, or career-ending injuries later in their development.

The long-awaited FitCon 2016 concluded yesterday. There is nothing quite like a good conference to make you feel like you know very little as a sports scientist with two degrees and 12 years of experience in the field.

There are some incredibly talented and specialised people out there and this is the perfect platform for them to showcase their research and findings.

For those who don’t know, FitCon is a Sports Science Institute of South Africa initiative which brings talented minds together from all over to share their published knowledge with their peer group.

This allows for debate and discussion which ultimately drives innovation into the next big research item. The event boasts the collaboration of 10 South African universities and four international ones, and is tailored for high-level academics, scientists, biokineticists, physiotherapists and other practitioners in the field of performance.

One of the major benefits of a conference like this is the networking. You get to meet all your old varsity friends, lecturers, professors and mentors as well as potential customers who you can promote your services and products to.

Two of the major highlights for me were the talks on youth development and the unveiling of the new Technogym Skillmill by South Africa director Tony Payne and local hero and brand ambassador, Bulls player and Springbok Jesse Kriel.

I look forward to next week’s article on the Skillmill because this is truly a game-changer for high performance athletes, performance coaches and clubs.

Coming back to the talks on youth development, and in particular, a long debate on whether young athletes should specialise when they are young or play multiple sports up to a certain age and then specialise.

Specialising in a sport is defined as an athlete only participating in that particular code and not having time to train for any other sport.

Let’s take swimming for example – this is the perfect sport for specialisation. Swimmers wake up in the morning and train for two to three hours, head off to school, have an afternoon gym session and then are back at the pool for another two to three hours for an early evening session.

Some of the findings at Fitcon show A

This is due to the overdevelopment of their muscles, the routine patterns, timing rations of muscle needed for their sport, and explosive demands.

The minute a swimmer is required to play a multi-directional sport like football, they look clumsy, have poor balance and co-ordination.

The phrase that can best describe early specialised swimmers is that they look like fish out of water. We at ASP have assessed a lot of swimmers over the years and we are always amazed at how incredibly poor swimmers score in their field-based assessments compared to our base norm database.

What we have also noticed is that athletes who focus on holistic development become far more well-rounded and we see faster times in the pool as well as better built frames and fewer injuries.

If you take into account that you have a 0.02 to 0.07 % chance of becoming a Springbok, then you would rethink the notion of only focusing on sport from an early age.

Another way to look at the percentages is to take a stadium and fill it with 30 000 people and out of those athletes only six will become Springboks.

Your chances of becoming the next Chad le Clos are even less. Parents should take note that the ideal development for a child is to choose a primary sport based on the child’s love for the sport’s fun factor, and abilities.

They should then complement the primary sport with additional sports that will add value to the child’s main sport.

I am looking forward to next year’s Fitcon because I know it is will be bigger and better and contain golden nuggets of information that I can learn from and write about.

If you are attending FitCon, let me know your thoughts. Tweet me @SeanVStaden