For many kids, sports are an integral part of their childhood, helping them develop physically, mentally and emotionally. Unfortunately, there is a continuing trend of less and less multi-sport athletes, in lieu of sport specialization at a young age. The goal of parents is often well intentioned, to give their child the best chance at excelling at their chosen sport. However, this method can lead to a number of negative consequences; including loss of motivation, increased burn out and increased injury risk. The good news is, sports diversification can not only mitigate the risks mentioned above, but also help build confidence, acquire new skills, increase coordination, and improve overall athleticism.
1) Increased Motivation and Decreased Athletic Burn Out
Encouraging a child to play more than one sports helps the child to focus on new tasks and demands, challenging the mind and body with new circumstances. This diversification will activate different patterns in their body and brain, which help to hold interest. If an athlete loses interest in a sport or activity, it is unlikely that any amount of teaching or coaching will help the athlete improve. Losing interest in one sport could also cause the athlete to lose interest in athletics altogether, and in doing so, lose out on the far-reaching benefits of athletics/exercise later in life. Parents may want to ask themselves if what they are doing is what they want, or what their child wants.
2) Increased Coordination, Overall Skill, and Athleticism.
New skill development will allow young athletes to be more effective in any sport they take part in. This crossover has been shown in both the development of motor skill coordination and the mental aspect of “reading the game”, not only creating a better-rounded athlete, but also allowing them approach their sport with new perspectives and strategies. Acquiring new skills and socializing with new teams serves to build the athlete’s self-esteem, confidence and athletic development.
3) Decreased Risk of Injury
Adolescent bodies are not designed to be treated like adult bodies, they are in a state of constant growth and change. The repetition of sport specificity, especially from a young age, has led to an increase in overuse injuries in our young athletes. This has both short-term effects, like missed playing time, and long-term effects, like how resilient an athlete’s body is into adulthood, post competitive play. Constant injury stresses are one of the main contributors to athlete burnout. By encouraging sport diversification from a young age, we spread the stress of athletics over many patterns and systems, not just one for the whole year. This allows your body time to recover, grow stronger and build a more injury resilient athletic career.
What Guidelines are Available?
The US Olympic Committee recommends using the LTAD (Long Term Athletic Development) model. Children ages 0-12 should be in as many sports as possible and spend much of their time simply “playing”. Adolescents, 12-15, should continue to play multiple sports, but begin to whittle down to their top 2 or 3, focusing on the specific skills and physical requirements of those sports. Athletes ages 15-19 should begin to learn what it means to train and drill for their specific sport(s), competition becomes the driving factor for sports participation. While all parents want their kids to exceed in whatever they do, sport diversification, rather than specificity, at a young age seems to be both the safest and most effective training method.