Virginia Golfer May / June 2015 - Page 14

Fit for Play TITLEIST PERFORMANCE INSTITUTE Variety HOUR by BHRETT MCCABE, Ph.D., sports and performance psychologist / licensed clinical psychologist, with TOM CUNNEFF THIS SPRING’S MASTERS VICTORY by Jordan Spieth might lead you to believe that the 21-year-old phenom did nothing but play golf all his life to achieve such major success at a young age. In addition to becoming the second youngest Masters champion (behind Tiger Woods, who was 21 in 1997), Spieth also made history at the 2013 John Deere Classic when, at 19 years and 11 months, he became the youngest champion on the PGA Tour since 1931. But the truth is that Spieth was a multisport athlete growing up in Dallas who excelled not only at golf but as a high school basketball player as well. He also played baseball and soccer. Yes, I’m sure he spent more hours on the practice range than the average kid, but he’s also very well-rounded and mature beyond his years. Right after winning the Masters, his dad said, “Go out there and thank the crowd,” evidence of tremendous balance in that family. Balance and variety are the keys, but in the last 10 years, there’s been a dramatic shift in how young athletes develop and train. In order to gain an edge, they’re focusing on one sport year-round. Truth be told, this approach can be very detrimental in the long run both physically and emotionally. We know that kids who specialize early have an increased risk of overuse injuries; sports medicine-based organizations are very concerned about it and rightfully so. Ultimately, not only are kids risking overuse injuries by specializing, but they’re also never getting time off to recover, 12 V I R G I N I A G O L F E R | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 12_VSGA_MayJun15.indd 12 both psychologically and physically. It’s a case of more and more being a little bit better. The next thing you know, you’ve got a kid who is running ragged. The problem is that specialization works only up to a point, particularly when kids are younger. Take golf, for instance. If you have a 14-year-old kid and all they do is play golf— they’re constantly at the range working—and they go play in a tournament against a kid who’s playing basketball and baseball, who’s going to win? Given that dynamic, there’s no doubt the kid who specializes in golf will come out victorious. Now, the research questions are: First, where does the transfer to the course under pressure occur for the kids who don’t specialize but are well-rounded? Secondly, where do they catch up and surpass (or do they) the kids that early specialize? There’s no doubt that many kids who overspecialize will burn out at some point and have overuse injuries. One recent 10-year study of kids who dropped out of sports found that early involvement and specialization actually lead to higher rates of psychological disengagement from the sport. This is the primary reason that young athletes transfer to other sports or opt-out altogether. LINGERING LIFE LESSONS It’s been my experience that kids are much better off playing a variety of sports. If a growing boy or girl focuses only on one sport and becomes so good, when do they ever learn to lose? When do they learn to struggle? Where do they learn humility? Where do they learn to deal with frustration? It’s through those struggles that we learn to find pathways to success. Let’s take a kid who is a superstar on the tennis court, but is also playing baseball, and on the diamond he or she is a third outfielder and not excelling as quickly. How do they handle that? There are a lot