Over the last couple of decades, there has been more and more push on getting youth athletes to play multiple sports. While it is true that if you practice one skill continuously, then you will eventually master it, but for a youth athlete, is this the best for their development?
Think about this… Bobby, age 11, is playing soccer, and he recently hit a growth spurt, making him taller, stronger, and quicker than most of his friends. During the season, he is a shining star and his coach encourages him to play soccer year-round while avoiding other sports so he can focus on soccer. He continues to improve his movement strategies for soccer, such as ball handling and quick cutting. With the extra hours he dedicated to doing the same activities, he develops knee pain from overuse and he takes time off while seeing his Physical Therapist to recover.
When Bobby returns to the field a few months later, his friends/teammates have caught up in size as well as skill. To regain his previous form, Bobby signs up for more soccer clinics and strength training on top of his regular competitive seasons. While Bobby has only focused on developing his soccer skills, his peers were playing other sports in their offseason, developing different skill sets, strengthening other muscles, and developing a broader “movement library.” Having experience in multiple sports and developing skills through multiple avenues has proven time and time again that young athletes will perform better and have longer careers. Check out the stats below:
87% of DI female runners and 91% of DI male runners were multisport athletes.
71% of DI men’s football players were multisport athletes.
Let’s go over a few pieces of Bobby’s training strategy neglects, compared to that of multisport athletes, as well as some other benefits of a varied training regimen.
Different types of skills can be applied from one sport to the next. This enhances the ability to perform certain physical skills, hand-eye coordination, balance, endurance, explosion, communication, agility, as well as mental toughness.
A variety of movements and activities can decrease the occurrence of overuse injuries associated with one sport or skill. Playing multiple sports gives athletes time to heal and develop different muscle groups and movement patterns.
Multi-sport athletes haven’t had that intense emphasis on one sport and are more likely to retain their love of the game. Multi-Sport allows kids to break away from their normal routine and try something new, which creates an extra level of eagerness and enthusiasm when playing a new sport. Exposure is more significant than specialization.
Multi-sport athletes display improved health and wellness and have a much higher chance of being active as adults. Due to decreased injury rates, improved athletic performance, improved leadership skills and teamwork, better attendance in school, and better academic performance.
To become a better teammate. Youth athletes learn how to be a team player in different situations, learn how to deal with adversity and understand that you can be the star quarterback on your football team, but sit on the bench in basketball.
As Physical Therapists, we see how early specialization continues to create high numbers of overuse injuries and shorter careers. We can change this by encouraging youth athletes to play multiple sports, engage in strength training, and having a distinct off-season. For example, if soccer is the priority, there are plenty of other sports that can provide athletes with skills that transfer to the field (e.g. baseball, cross country, basketball, lacrosse, football, tennis, etc.).
Above all, we have to let kids be kids. Encourage them to play outside. Emphasize practice and fun instead of competition and winning. These steps will allow young athletes to achieve greatness in the long term. While he or she might be amazing at one sport, we must be better about developing them gradually. Or we risk the discussed consequences and the athlete never reaches their true potential.
If you have questions or need guidance regarding your young athlete's performance or conditioning, please reach out to our clinics. We would love to help you!