Multisport Athletes Flourish On and Off The Field
Being a multisport athlete allows student-athletes to flourish on and off the field. Is your child showing signs of being a multisport athlete at a young age? Have you noticed your son lights up when he joins his friends for Little League or your daughter wants to accompany you to the putting green and practice her swing? Does he or she excel on the soccer field, but come home and complain about practice? Every child is different, and every athlete has different skills, abilities, and interests. As a parent, it’s tough to know whether to push them to pursue one sport early or play the field. If your family has the time, and money, it might be wise to let your child try several sports and even play multiple sports throughout school. A growing body of research suggests that specializing in a single sport too early could work against a young student-athlete.
Here are four advantages of being a multisport athlete:
Keeps Athletes Engaged
Learning a new sport is good for both the body and the brain. Young athletes can grow bored playing the same sport year-round, especially if they have a coach they don’t like or play the same position. It can start to feel like a chore or they might feel pressure from coaches and parents to perform well as a one-sport superstar. For this reason, many athletes who spend all of their time on one sport tend to quit or give up due to burnout, boredom or unrealistic expectations from parents and coaches. “Burnout can be caused by many factors, but it ultimately occurs when athletes feel helpless about their ability to meet external (or internal) expectations,” says Mark Rerick, a high school athletic director who wrote on the topic for the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Trying a new sport or taking up a second sport for fun or conditioning helps kids break away from routine. It also provides a challenge, allows them to explore new interests, and may even ignite an unknown excitement for mastering a new game.
Prevents Injury from Overuse
There’s a reason baseball teams have several pitchers – and most professional athletes retire at a young age. It’s no secret that using the same muscles, or repeating the same motion, over and over again can cause chronic pain and lead to serious injury. Rerick notes that tender, growing joints subjected to repetitive movements are prone to injury without proper rest and recovery. Growing research shows the severe consequences of repeated concussions related to high-contact sports such as football, ice hockey, and soccer. Plus, travel teams and club leagues allow athletes to play year-round, making overuse injuries a real cause for concern.
By playing different sports, athletes condition different muscles. Running cross country can help build endurance, mental stamina, and cardiovascular fitness. This can pay off during long matches on the soccer field or tennis court. Rather than training hard for one season and loafing the rest of the year, playing multiple sports keeps athletes in shape year-round. Athletes who participate in multiple sports also develop skills that complement other sports. Whether that’s hand-eye coordination, speed, endurance or general confidence, playing multiple sports can improve overall strength and conditioning.
Allows Children to Explore New Interests
Cross country or tennis? Soccer or baseball? Golf or track? Is your middle schooler still trying to decide which sport they like best or which one might land them a coveted college scholarship?
It’s hard to know if you like something if you haven’t had a chance to try it. And playing sports shouldn’t always be about winning. For younger athletes, it’s also about having fun, making new friends, and figuring out where they excel. Rerick emphasizes playing a sport should be something your child enjoys doing, not something he or she feels obliged to do. “Specialization often occurs as a result of coaches or parents who want athletes to ‘be the best they can be’ without acknowledging that there are many paths to that goal,” notes Rerick. “The younger the kids are, the fewer coping skills they have acquired to deal with this kind of pressure.” And specialization at a young age doesn’t necessarily increase success at the high school or college level. It could even increase the risk of injury, according to a study presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s 2017 annual meeting.
Don’t pressure your child to play the sport you did or relive your high school glory days through them. It’s important for kids to have the freedom to try new things. They may realize they like individual sports over the pressure of team play. They may also discover a sport that becomes a lifelong hobby such as archery, tennis, skiing or running.
Builds Character, Discipline
Multisport athletes have an incentive to do well in school so they can maintain eligibility and possibly earn college scholarships. According to the National Scouting Report, college coaches often recruit or want multiple sport athletes because it develops a more well-rounded player and person.
In the 2017 NFL draft, 30 out of the 32 first-round picks were multisport athletes in high school. And while less than 10 percent of athletes go on to play sports in college, multisport athletes have better attendance in school, better academic performance, and exhibit leadership skills and a strong work ethic. Not only are they motivated to succeed, but playing multiple sports helps students learn how to deal with adversity, get along with others, and broadens their experiences. They tend to be more flexible, coachable and resilient. Like anything, mastering a sport involves a certain amount of practice and skill combined with confidence and self-efficacy. Your child may sit the bench in hockey but excel at golf. Playing multiple sports helps them become a more dynamic team player, adjust to different social situations and people, and can reduce social anxiety.
While there are pros and cons to being a multisport athlete, the rewards outweigh the risks. Multisport athletes display better physical fitness, athletic performance, and mental fortitude. Focusing on one sport too soon narrows your child’s options and may keep him or her from discovering their true passion or natural talents. Having options allows a child to figure out what he/she really loves and what he/she dreads or simply isn’t good at. Being exposed to many activities and interests will make your child more well-rounded and teach valuable life skills. For instance, it’s okay to quit something they don’t like after giving it their best effort. After all, a small minority of high school players go on to be successful college athletes and even fewer go pro. Hopefully, they have memories of having fun with friends or learning a sport that helps them stay active as an adult.