My 10-year-old son is a sports fanatic. And it’s not just about playing every sport; it’s also about watching sports. In fact, I think he is watching a replay of the 2015 Men’s Curling World Championship as I write this.
His first love is baseball, but he has played organized soccer, paddle tennis, basketball, flag football and lacrosse, and he just wrapped up his first swim season.
But it’s become increasingly popular to specialize in a sport. Even at 10 years old.
He’s on a baseball team that plays 10 months out of the year. He’s been asked to join the year-round local swim team. And he’s also contemplated joining the traveling soccer team that plays nearly 12 months a year.
In my opinion, it’s way too early to specialize in anything, in part because I think it’s way too early in a kid’s life to decide what sport you love and want to spend all of your waking hours committed to.
(It’s kind of like asking 18-year-olds what they want to major in at college and spend the rest of their lives doing … but I digress.)
But I also think that it’s a detriment to a child’s growth not to be able to explore other things.
My personal beliefs are backed by science too. Sports specialization can have “significant negative consequences on the development of an athlete over time.”
What in the world does this have to do with private investigators?
I have often said, on this blog and elsewhere, that becoming a specialist in one thing is critical for private investigators. Being awesome at one thing is much easier to sell than being mediocre at a bunch of stuff.
But that’s not the whole story, and there are some lessons from youth sports that private investigators could learn.
Don’t Specialize Too Early
Investigators don’t need to worry about getting injured so much, but if you end up specializing too early in your career, you could become too one-dimensional, less effective and, more importantly, less marketable.
Surveillance, which was the bread and butter of just about any investigative firm as recently as 10 years ago, has become a dying art. And there is a tremendously high burnout rate for surveillance investigators. It’s hard to blame them; sitting in a car for 12 hours a day and going to the bathroom in a bottle can do that to you.
I can’t tell you how many calls I have received over the past few years from surveillance investigators who are suffering from burnout but have no other marketable skills to speak of.
Better Overall Skills
Research shows that early participation in multiple sports leads to better overall motor and athletic development and an increased ability to transfer sports skills to other sports. It also leads to longer playing careers.
The simple fact of the matter is that no two cases that I have ever done are exactly alike. While having some experience in a particular area is helpful, having a broad base of knowledge of a variety of topics is an invaluable tool that can not only make you more valuable but also can lengthen your career.
Many Paths to Success
Early specialization is not the only path to stardom in sports. For every story of child prodigies like Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters, the reality is that the majority of childhood prodigies never fulfill their early promise.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers infamized the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is a matter of practicing the correct way for a total of around 10,000 hours.
While it’s critical for any great investigator to put in the time, there is no direct path to success. In fact, one could argue that there are hundreds of paths to success.
Some of the best investigators I have ever come across are former district attorneys, federal prosecutors, in-house legal investigators, journalists and many investigators who have spent their whole lives in the private sector.
I’m not a perfect parent, and I’m not even close to the best investigator that I can be.
In fact, I am far from it.
But I’ve learned quite a few lessons from my kids, and I hope that they have picked up a few lessons from me too.