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Abstract

An increasing number of children playing sports face pressure (both parental and societal) to specialize at an early age, to focus exclusively on one sport with the hope of securing a college scholarship. So-called “travel teams,” once the domain of tweens and teens, now extends to the very youngest children, with athletes (and parents) traveling exceedingly long distances, and spending large sums of money, virtually year-round. Through the course of this paper, I glean from both American philosophical themes, and current literature related to social change, to help at least partially answer this question regarding youth sport specialization. I contend that these conceptual ideas help provide language for us to think more clearly about some of the issues surrounding youth sport specialization. To begin, the potential downsides of youth sport specialization are patently clear. Focusing on one particular sport at a young age presents latent hazards. At an appropriate point, however, this specialization holds the potential for exploring the notion of commitment in extremis. After engaging in multiple sport options during elementary school years, the adolescent soccer player, for example, may decide to pursue the “beautiful game” to see what potential it may bring. My aim is to examine sport participation, specifically during the process where youth become committed to a particular sport. In this way, I move from issues of early exploration with youth sport to issues related to commitment and immersion. My contention is that youth sport participants who choose to focus on a particular sport, to make it their own, and make this decision (largely) on their own – act in a way which is consistent with the language of American philosopher, William James. James is fitting here, as Ilundain-Agurruza (2015) explains, because his works are “suited for a holistic conception of enactive performance . . . [and include a focus on] asceticism and risk, and those regarding cognition and action” (p. 259).

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