“The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine recommend delaying sports specialization until at least age 10.”
Before there was year-round and travel league baseball, there was a time when sports’ seasons had an end date on the calendar. The transition from diamond, to field, to court was smooth and effortless, and the enjoyment of activities seemed endless. Now, we find ourselves so focused on our children excelling in one particular sport, that we often forget why they started playing in the first place. Are we doing the right thing, or are we depriving them of experiences that could help shape the type of athlete and individual we dream them to be? Coaches (on all levels) and medical experts agree, that kids who play a variety of sports growing up, have the potential to be more well-rounded athletes, socially, emotionally, and physically.
We often encourage our children to play sports with friends in order to add another element of enjoyment to the experience. However, one of the most unrealized benefits of our children participating in multiple sports is the variety of other children they will meet. Since no two children are the same, in personality or in build, they are meeting and competing with other kids of various levels of abilities and playing styles. This provides so many amazing opportunities for parents to discuss how to handle anger, frustration, being a good sport, understanding others who have special needs, and how to keep a positive attitude when facing kids bigger than they are. While they may have never spoken to some of these children at school, being part of the same team changes the dynamics a bit and allows them to broaden their friend base. The basketball court or football field can be the ideal setting for life lessons in character and friendship, if we just pay attention.
Creating Better Competitors
Not only are our children exposed to different types of friends in various sporting activities, they also learn to perform different roles in different sports. While a child may be the starter or superstar in one sport, he/she may be a support player in another. Each of these roles imparts a lesson on being a good leader, on how to win and lose with grace, and how to play with humility, regardless of ability. Not only do these varying experiences help to develop their character on and off the field, they also demonstrate to the coach that they are versatile, committed players that can add to the strength of the team.
Learning from Leaders
Just as each child brings a different personality to the game, each coach approaches their sport and their players a little differently. By playing a variety of sports, children are exposed to many diverse coaching and leadership styles, which can have real-world benefits as well. According to Owensboro Catholic Assistant Basketball Coach, Ben Murphy, “Athletes playing multiple sports have to adapt to the demands and expectations of each coach and the sport they are playing. This could be a tremendous help for those athletes because they can eventually apply the skills they’ve learned through sports to the real world, such as adapting to their supervisor’s expectations, once they are ready for the work force.”
Wiping Out Burn-out
What once appeared to be your child’s favorite sport, has now become a burden and a source of frustration. That once excited attitude has now become a sigh of resentment. Sound familiar? Our children often spend so much of their free time involved in one particular sport that, over time, they quite frankly just become burnt out. By exposing them to a new skill or hobby, whether it be sports, art, or music, children can try new things and experience a much-needed physical and emotional break. Apollo Soccer Coach, Mason Head says, “Imagine, one sport ten months out of the year for ten years…such specialization will very likely lead the child to become disinterested.” In an interview with USA Today, Sacramento Kings Center, and former University of Kentucky basketball player, Willie Cauley-Stein says, “‘If you just played one sport at the age of 10, I’d worry about you. It just keeps your mind fresh. You don’t get burned out…Me playing three and four different sports has kept me fresh. It gives you a wider variety of things you think you could be good at and do.’”
Staying Stronger Longer
As caring and concerned parents, we often want our children to be the best in their sport. However, fewer and fewer coaches and professionals are encouraging specialization in one particular sport. Apollo High School Head Baseball Coach, Bob Mantooth, has been shaping players for over forty years. Mantooth says, “When a kid specializes in a sport and tries to get as good as they can, there is a chance they could get better — but they run the risk of overuse injury.” According to current research by pediatric orthopedic specialists, “Children who specialize in a single sport, account for 50% of overuse injuries in young athletes.” Each sport requires a specific set of muscle groups and body parts, so using the same muscle groups over and over can lead to wear and tear on the body. Participating in different sports throughout the year allows for a decrease in injuries because they are working different muscles and increasing flexibility. Not to mention that skills transfer from sport to sport, helping to build a more well-rounded athlete.
One big thing to remember about multiple sports is that they are not meant to be viewed as a path to a greater number of professional sports opportunities. Instead, they should be a way of decreasing stress, developing character, and encouraging our children to go out and have fun with a new group of friends. The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine suggests that parents, “Focus on skills development, rather than structured competition. Developing different fundamental skills early increases success and ultimately love for sports.”
Coach’s Corner: Local coaches share their insight on the topic of playing multiple sports.
“There are so many benefits to playing different sports…when children are young, they may not know where their talents are, or where they get their joy.” – Bob Mantooth, Head Baseball Coach at Apollo High School, 41 years coaching experience
“Playing multiple sports allows your child to stay active, continue training, and develop skill sets that will compliment his/her best sport.” – Mason Head, Head Soccer Coach Apollo High School, 7 years coaching experience
“There are multiple benefits from playing multiple sports…. Unfortunately as coaches, we do a poor job of sharing our athletes and a lot of kids do not get the chance to compete or excel in multiple sports.” – Mark Fortney, Daviess County High School Girls’ Cross Country and Track and Field Coach, 18 years coaching experience
“Each sport is composed of a group of individuals coming together to complete a common goal or vision…a unique bond is formed and friendships are developed that will last a lifetime.” – Ben Murphy, Assistant Boys’ Basketball Coach at Catholic High School, 20 years coaching experience
“Kids get bored with playing the same sport year round. Playing different sports will keep them challenged and engaged and will make them look forward to playing as each new season approaches.” – Todd Humphreys, KFL President, DCMS 7th grade Football Coach, 25 years coaching experience