Study Finds Just 12 Percent of NHL and NCAA Hockey Players Specialized Before Age 12

A recent study focused on sports specialization and our great sport of hockey. Not specializing in one sport has been a topic of parents & coaches for years, in fact USA Hockey through their ADM program has been preaching this for years. I think we can all agree that creating better all-around athletes is a positive and had my boys play multiple sports when they were 12 and under…

In a study that looked at the sports histories of professional and collegiate ice hockey players, Penn State College of Medicine researchers found that on average, the athletes played multiple sports as kids and waited until around age 14 to focus solely on ice hockey.

Matthew Silvis, professor of family and community medicine and orthopaedics and rehabilitation, said the results help dispel a belief that kids have to specialize in a sport at an early age in order to succeed.

As the Hershey Bears team physician, Silvis said he has seen many young children begin specializing in ice hockey as early as age six, which he says comes with mental and physical health risks.

“In many sports, there’s a belief among many parents and coaches that in order for your child to make the team or have the best chance for a collegiate scholarship, you have to pick a sport really early in life and only focus on that one sport,” Silvis said. “That actually runs counter to what we think in terms of sports medicine and sports performance, and this study supported our line of thinking.”

The researchers said that in addition to the risk of children becoming burned out after playing only one sport from a young age, there are also physical risks to early specializing.

I don’t disagree with the results of the study, I am just not a fan of making broad stroke assessment when there are multiple variables to take into consideration. For example, with hockey…where are you located? How much does ice cost? How much ice is there? Do you have outdoor skating opportunities? If you live in California the answers to most of those questions aren’t that easy. If you live in in Minnesota or New England your hockey season could be 6 months long and you could still get a ton more opportunities to play / learn the game on ice than if you live in California. In our lovely state there is a shortage of ice and the ice that is available is very expensive. That’s why it was always my strategy to go all in during the season then when spring or summer sports start it becomes more 50/50.

The full study can be found here.