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MLB All-Star: Stop pushing too hard on youth sports

Former MLB All-Star Nomar Garciaparra. (AP)

Fall sports practices are up and running for youth sports. Maybe you have a son that throws a tight spiral. Maybe you have a daughter with a howitzer for a leg. Maybe you’re considering year-round baseball after your child had a great summer travel team experience.

What should you do now? How do you go after a potential scholarship without burning-out your child?

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The old guard will tell you that you have to work year-round on that sport to the exclusion of all others to maximize your potential, but that attitude is changing. The word from coaches and trainers these days is to avoid that specialization, especially when they’re younger. I’m talking middle school age or younger. That’s way too early to focus on one sport.

MLB All-Star Nomar Garciaparra believes specialization is hurting youth sports. It’s something he sees, particularly in baseball.

“You have eight year olds, 10 year olds, 12 year olds focusing on one sport and playing all year long,” Garciaparra said. “You have some of these kids who are pitching more than guys in the big league level. That needs to be addressed.”

Garciaparra said it has gotten so bad, the over-pitching especially, that you can put a shoulder MRI up on a screen of a 19 year old and a 39 year old and see the same wear and tear.

“They can’t tell the difference between the two,” he said. “That’s an issue.”

A recent study reports that 57-percent of Tommy John surgeries each year are for players between 15 and 19 years old.

So how do you chase the dream of playing in college or professionally without burning your kid out?

“I have parents that say ‘my kid loves baseball and that’s why they’re playing so many games,'” he said. “My child loves cake, but I don’t give it to him for breakfast everyday. As a parent, I have to slow them down too. I have to be that one that says ‘you need a break.'”

Garciaparra said he got his great baseball footwork from years of soccer, and he learned about pressure from football. His advice is to focus on becoming a complete athlete. He said he doesn’t remember many, if any at-bats in high school, “but I do recall having to kick a field goal with three seconds left, and I do recall the state championship and there was a penalty kick and I had to take that penalty kick.”

“Other sports and other situations get you mentally prepared for whatever you may aspire to,” he said.

Playing other sports also builds and perfects other muscle groups.

Up to 70-percent of kids quit organized sports by the time they are 13 years old. Burnout from specialization is one reason. A lack of fun is another reason. Cost is another. Playing on some of these travel teams can cost thousands of dollars a year, and that doesn’t include travel expenses. Garciaparra said you can still make it to the next level, whatever that level might be, without specializing, especially at a young age.

He has partnered with the Dodgers and MLB to promote new training centers that focus on developing athletes, not just baseball players. They get instruction from former professional and coaches. All kids are welcome, regardless of their skill levels. It’s a model that many youth leagues are starting to adopt. Garciaparra has also partnered with Tacoma’s Aaron Trolia to extend that model to Washington.

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