When Sport Nova Scotia’s Amy Walsh sat down with some provincial sport organizations in October 2016, she heard loud and clear that early sport specialization is a troubling trend. As Director of Sport Development, Amy had already seen reams of data on this subject, but hearing about its direct impact on Sport Nova Scotia’s members – and ultimately families – was inciting. Something had to be done. Here is an excerpt from that first conversation with Soccer Nova Scotia’s Executive Director, Brad Lawlor.
AMY WALSH: What would you say is one of the biggest issues in your sport right now?
BRAD LAWLOR: Our main concern right now is talking to athletes who play soccer year-round without a break. Instead of soccer being a sport they want to play, it becomes a sport they’re tired of.
AMY WALSH: I read a stat the other day, “Around 70 per cent of kids stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because ‘it’s just not fun anymore’.”
Certainly within our sport, what we’ve been seeing over the years is kids dropping out at 14-15 years old… And this mirrors all the research out there that tells us, when you specialize early, there’s a great chance of burn-out – and that often means quitting the sport altogether at a far too young age.
AMY WALSH: I’m going to ask a rather obvious question, why is it that you want to keep them in the sport longer?
BRAD LAWLOR: The whole point of sport is to have fun, grow as a person, and be active your whole life. When a player starts specializing early and then gets tired of the sport and calls it quits as a teenager, often this player has no other sports to fall back on. Then inactivity becomes a real threat at a vulnerable age. Athletes need time away and that’s what multisport allows.
AMY WALSH: It’s hard for the parents because in many cases they’re supporting what their child wants.
BRAD LAWLOR: The peer pressure on kids and on parents is overwhelming right now. It’s happening way too often and it’s driving kids away. I’m talking about that child who, at an early age, is showing promise and the parents get caught up in it. Maybe it’s the coach in their ear or maybe it’s other parents and they ultimately feel pressure to do more, add this camp, add this tournament, add this practice, add this skills session.
AMY WALSH: Would you say there are some outliers, though, who should be doing this?
BRAD LAWLOR: What I’m saying is that for the vast majority of kids – and certainly every kid under the age of 12 – this is a risky path. Sure, there will come a time when certain athletes (usually age 14-15 and older) may want to specialize and play at an elite level but, even then, it is well documented that playing other sports helps get you there.
AMY WALSH: What does Soccer Nova Scotia do now to help promote multi-sport play?
BRAD LAWLOR: Philosophically we are there. Our board members have become champions of this message and we are preaching it at the organizational level. But together with our soccer clubs we need to do more. We need to take a close look at programs and leagues. We need to look at our annual calendar and find ways to create opportunities for kids to leave the game for a while and play other sports.
AMY WALSH: And I know you have a lot more changes coming.
BRAD LAWLOR: Some of the things you will see, Soccer Nova Scotia is committed to a policy review with our clubs, a roll-out on coach education and we will be teaming up with Hockey Nova Scotia to host a multi-sport camp.
AMY WALSH: What do you hope comes out of this work?
BRAD LAWLOR: I hope kids will leave our game for a while, play other sports and do other things. Because ironically, that’s what will keep them active in the sport for many years to come. And really, isn’t that the whole point?