There is a lot of debate about the merits of young athletes specialization in a particular sport to gain a competitive advantage over their peers. Questions run the gamut; when to do it, how to do it, and if it should be done at all.
Like many debates where parental influence weights heavy over the lives of their children, this one is best left to the individual athlete and situation. What might be right for Bobby, may not be for Barbara. That being said, there are some things to consider.
Specialization is good for developing a complete athlete. It's evident that participating in a variety of sports will give a young person a variety of skills. Soccer for instance works an entirely different skill set than does baseball, or basketball. Each has it's benefit when considering the athlete as a whole and there is much evidence to support the idea that playing a multitude of sports will improve your coordination across the board and subsequently your play.
Specialization does not take into account the different rates of physical and emotional maturation for kids, which can risk pigeonholing them and decreasing their opportunity to make choices and develop other interests and talents.
There may be a time when an athlete decides that they want to specialize in a single sport. Generally speaking, many suggest that an athlete wait until after their freshman year in high school before specializing in a single sport. Almost all agree that specialization should only be done by athletes who are driven by an intense desire to take their sports to the elite level.
Specialization gives the athlete the opportunity to set serious career like goals in athletics as well as giving them at least an initial advantage over multi-sport athletes. Athletes looking to maximize their opportunities at the next level will also be tempted to specialize. The reality is that less than 2% of all athletes will enjoy a scholarship career in college. The number of college athletes who go pro is similarly small. Regardless, the athlete who specializes and sets specific performance and practice goals will benefit tremendously from the experience.
There are plenty of blogs and forums to be found on the internet regarding specialization in youth sports. Each child and their parents should consider the move only after a careful examination of the realities of specialization and the specific goals and desires of the athlete themselves.
Specialization is a bold move that can pay off in the right scenario. Playing every sport under the sun isn't a bad move either, it all depends on what you want and what your goals are.