The Tiger Woods Affect

Uncategorized Jan 25, 2019

 I enjoy writing this blog. I love writing. But this is a one-way communication tool. I write, you (hopefully) read.

I love social media, especially Twitter, for that chance to engage in meaningful dialogue in 240 character bursts with people from all over the world.

And of course in person is the best as you can really get in-depth discussions, and there is no hiding in person!  But enough of my first year marketing class lesson on communication mediums. What am I getting at?

In all my interactions with people when talking about multi-sport and LTAD vs early sport specialization, it seems most people fit broadly into one of three categories.

  • I hate this early sport specialization trend, I want my kids playing different sports, but I don’t want my kids to miss opportunities (FOMO).
  • What are you talking about? What is LTAD? What is early sport specialization?
  • This multi-sport trend is stupid. If kids want to be great at a sport, or if they love a sport, why not let them play 10+ months a year?

That first group of people – the converted, easy to talk to, they understand the benefits (thumbs up to all of you). Unfortunately the smallest group right now.

The second group, hopefully a captive audience. Often genuinely interested in hearing more, but sometimes can be difficult to convert, however never seem to be pushed towards not believing in the benefits of multi-sport participation. This is by far the largest group.

The third group are those who have heard the buzzwords and topic of multi-sport participation, they’ve often heard that early sport specialization is negative, but they do not believe it. Some will use themselves as an example:

I loved football growing up, it’s all I wanted to do, so it’s all I played, and I was able to play college ball!

Often times it’s the same story but with a friend as an example.  However the most used example is Tiger Woods.  Believed by many to be one of the best, if not best golfer to ever grace our earth. He famously specialized in golf before 3 years old, quickly became a prodigy, and eventually on to dominating the world of golf for over a decade. He completely changed the sport, the media attention it garnered, and the prize money that was up for grabs.  He made golf cool to the masses.

How do I argue with this example? Tiger Woods rode the early sport specialization train all the way to the very top!

Easy - Statistics.

I promise I won’t bore you with too much math because this is really entry level statistics.

You see, the issue of using Tiger Woods, from a statistics standpoint, is something called selection bias.  In statistics, your results are only as good as your sample population.  This is where you hear terms like “double-blind”, “random sampling”, and “95% confidence”. Why do we do this in stats? Because we are trying to infer something about the population based on a sample.  So if our sample is skewed, non-random, or otherwise not representative of the population, then the results are basically useless.

So in this case, those who argue for early sport specialization are using a sample of 1 to infer for the global population.  Seems a bit suspect, don’t you think

So, here is my counter:

Wayne Gretzky – famously only played hockey during traditional hockey season.  Was a very good baseball and lacrosse player and would have preferred to be a baseball player.

Mike Trout – the greatest baseball player of his generation was also an All-Conference basketball player in high school.

Bo Jackson – only person to ever be an all-star in both Pro-Football and Pro baseball. He qualified for the NCAA 100m nationals in his first 2 years of college. Watch his ESPN 30 for 30!

Kobe Bryant – has stated that soccer made him a better basketball player.

Serena and Venus Williams – the best sibling combo in tennis and probably in all of sport.  Their father famously pulled them out of the competitive tennis circuit at 10 years old to allow them to go slow and wanted them to retain some of the fun in their youth.

(I know they still essentially specialized early, but not via the path we see today)

Michael Jordon – Was so bored of basketball that he quit at the prime of his career to try his hand at Double A baseball.  In 1994 AA baseball, he was one of just 6 players with 30 stolen bases and 50 RBI

Christine Sinclair - the 2nd highest goal scorer in international women’s soccer history, was also an all-star shortstop on a boys team in her youth.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – when they retire they will go down as the two greatest male tennis players ever (who comes first is a fascinating debate!).  What was their first love? As Europeans, it must be football!

So remember, Tiger Woods’ childhood path has been traveled by many, and the vast majority see little to no long-term athletic success.  Many other all-time greats have had much more balanced athletic upbringings, and often credit their varied experiences in helping make them the player they ended up becoming.


We are re-running our 2018 Winter Youth Sport Leadership Online Event this weekend.  We sat down and chatted with industry leaders across various sports areas, and are happily sharing with all of you to learn and grow.

More info found on our Events page.



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