News / Canada

Campaign targets sport specialization: 'Parents get caught up in peer pressure'

The "Get More from Sport" campaign, launched Monday by Sport Nova Scotia in partnership with Hockey Nova Scotia and Soccer Nova Scotia, is aimed at parents of athletes 12 and under.

Children run through drills at the Stone Harbor School,  Wednesday, July 11, 2012, in Stone Harbor, N.J. Parents are being warned about the dangers of early specialization in sport, in a new campaign that says over focusing on one-sport skills may burn out younger athletes.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/The Press of Atlantic City, Dale Gerhard

Children run through drills at the Stone Harbor School, Wednesday, July 11, 2012, in Stone Harbor, N.J. Parents are being warned about the dangers of early specialization in sport, in a new campaign that says over focusing on one-sport skills may burn out younger athletes.

HALIFAX — Parents are being warned about the dangers of early specialization in sport, in a new campaign that says overfocusing on one-sport skills may burn out younger athletes.

Carolyn Townsend, communications director with Sport Nova Scotia, said research has shown that kids who focus too much on one sport risk an increase in repetitive injuries, can stunt their athletic development, and are at risk of dropping out by the age of 14 or older because of burnout.

"There are about 65 (organizations) in our fold and there's not one of them that hasn't identified this as an issue," said Townsend.

"What we find happens is that parents get caught up in peer pressure. They listen to their coach who may or may not be educated and they listen to other parents."

The "Get More from Sport" campaign, launched Monday by Sport Nova Scotia in partnership with Hockey Nova Scotia and Soccer Nova Scotia, is aimed at parents of athletes 12 and under.

The campaign includes social media, billboards and a website with videos, information and a test parents can take to see if they are making the right choices for their child's athletic development.

Townsend said the goal is to get parents to visit the website where the videos in particular highlight the issues through humour. One involves a support group for parents that opens with a woman introducing herself as a "recovering soccer mom."

Brad Lawlor, executive director of Soccer Nova Scotia, said parents do feel pressure to keep their children in one sport in order to give them a potential edge. He said younger athletes are often enrolled in skills camps run by private businesses after their seasons have concluded.

Lawlor said parents need to be educated on the athletic benefits of playing other sports in either an organized or informal way.

"You don't have to do that additional training,"  he said. "If your child is playing basketball and they are getting the physical fitness element of that, it's going to help them in their other sport."

Jean Cote, a professor in Queens University's school of kinesiology and health studies, said early specialization is the result of adults taking over and "professionalizing" youth sport.

Cote said aside from leading to problems such as injuries and dropout rates, it's taking away much of the fun for younger kids.

"The problem is as adults we think skill is the most important thing, but kids just want to play sports," he said. "If you have a kid who is having fun ... then they will be willing to invest to practise more and to do more to develop their skills."

Cote said the research is clear that many professional athletes and adults who continue to play sports for fun played many different sports in their development.

He believes the Nova Scotia program's goal of reaching out to parents is the right approach.

"Parents should know that if their kids play tennis 30 hours a week when they are age eight it's not a good thing," said Cote.

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