I always played multiple sports growing up. That’s just what we did in my family. I figured I would grow up to be a professional athlete at the sport I was most adept at playing. It would sort itself out as I progressed through my playing career.
However, in today’s world of burgeoning youth sports, I come across too many parents that think their child needs to practice one specific sport and focus on it year round. If not, their son or daughter will never, ever reach their potential; they will never reach elite status.
I couldn’t disagree more!
Dr. John P. DiFlori, President of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and Team Physician for the UCLA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics states, “With the exception of select sports such as gymnastics in which the elite competitors are very young, the best data we have would suggest that the odds of achieving elite levels with this method are exceedingly poor.”
For the many young athletes that come through my program at GUTS Training Center, I always advocate for and encourage playing multiple sports. Research shows, among other things, that early participation in multiple sports leads to better overall motor and athletic development and longer playing careers. Multi-sport participation at the youngest ages yields better decision making and pattern recognition, as well as increased creativity. These are all qualities that coaches of high level teams look for.
In fact, most college athletes come from a background of playing multiple sports. A 2013 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine survey found that 88% of college athletes surveyed participated in more than one sport as a child, and 70 percent did not specialize in one sport until after the age of 12. In a similar study of Olympians in Germany, results found that on average, the Olympians had participated in two other sports during childhood before or parallel to their main sport. Both studies support the concept of sports diversification in adolescence — not specialization.
For me, playing multiple sports not only helped me physically but mentally as well. It helped me develop self-confidence which is essential when competing on the field of play but, more importantly, it is essential for dealing with the trials and tribulations that life is certain to bring.
It saddens me when I see parents relentlessly pushing their children and having them train nonstop. When I tell parents that they may burn their child out physically or mentally, I love it when they say, “Not my child.” Of course not your child.
Let your young athlete participate in multiple activities. In fact, let your child have some time to just be a kid. Not everything they do has to be so structured and organized. Let them love sports and let it grow from there.