If you’re keeping track of topics in the sports world there is one that has remained a consistent topic the last few years. The topic I’m referring to is sport specialization and youth. If you look at the youth landscape over the past 15-20 years you’ll likely have noticed a major emphasis on forcing youth to specialize in sports at an early age.
The argument made is that doing so will give the child an edge on the highly competitive arena for college scholarships, or just getting to the next level in the hopes of making it to the pros.
However, as we all know the number of kids who make it to the professional levels are very slim. In the chart below you can see what the NCAA statistics were for 2018 regarding NCAA athletes and their ability to make it to the professional level. This doesn’t take into affect other avenues such as minor league systems, but given the number of leagues and teams in various minor league sports it becomes even more competitive and challenging to get to the next level.
For many getting to the next level is a goal for them it is fraught with challenges along the way. One of the biggest challenges facing developing athletes is injuries. Over time we’re seeing more and more young athletes succumb to serious injuries. Part of that could be due to early sport specialization, but the overshadowed cause could be that by not playing multiple sports young athletes aren’t able to develop their overall athletic abilities.
If we look at hockey for instance, and you have a player who has excelled in the sport and is able to grow through the ranks but has only played hockey they are missing some of the innate abilities in their physical development that comes from playing other sports. Having a simple ability to read the game, or play as it develops and have the motor skills to say avoid a hit could be the difference in avoiding a major injury.
In the end it comes down to a complete athletic ability. I’ve read articles where professional level athletes can’t complete what I would call are basic athletic movements because they never had to learn them or use them on a regular basis. In their 20’s they’re having to go back and learn the basics that they were missing all along.
Personally when we talk about youth sports and player development I’m a big fan of multi-sport athletes. I grew up playing just about everything I could get my hands on. While I wasn’t the best at some, or I didn’t really care for others I can step onto just about any court and be more or less effective.
Throw away the learning curve of the sport and tactics being able to draw from other sports allows players the ability to increase their athletic IQ. I’ve noticed when you look at athletes that specialize early they end up missing pieces of their athletic IQ. By that I’m speaking to a players ability to read and anticipate what’s happening in front of them and make informed decisions on how to respond accordingly. Most of that learning comes from being a student of the game, but also through various scenarios and situations a players goes through by playing. If players experiences are limited to one sport, they’re missing out on the opportunity to increase their situational experiences.
So how does Floorball fit into the mix? Regardless of the sport an athlete plays floorball can fit a variety of needs in an athletes overall development. While the obvious connection to hockey is there you’ll likely find more growth from players who play soccer, football, and basketball engaging in Floorball. The idea of cross-training allows athletes the ability to work different muscle groups.
When we look at overall player development in this area the goal should be to build a complete athlete. While most should have their aerobic development higher than most, Floorball helps provide more anaerobic and overall endurance of the body. The ability to make quick explosive movements in Floorball is a useful skill for lots of sports. Being able to develop fast twitch muscles by doing different activities should correlate to greater physical development in players main sport.
Working at a University I’ve routinely used Floorball as a means to engage varsity athletes in their off season training and development. It helps work different muscles, gives them a bit of a break from the traditional grind, and also becomes an avenue of fun for them as a player. I think we’ve forgotten that aspect.
Playing sports should be fun, and somewhere along the line we’ve done a good job of sucking the fun out of it, and it’s become serious business. I’ve made it a point to not offer Floorball year round, but to give kids a chance to rest, and hopefully play other sports. It’s a tough business decision in some ways, but I hope that as Floorball grows they’ll continue to come back and enjoy it. Hopefully we’ll see long-term enjoyment and sustainability as a sport through this process. It’s the same thing that soccer, football, basketball, and baseball did as they developed.