The Value of Multi-Sport Participation



In the world of athletics, we sometimes need a reminder that sports for kids should be fun! The prospect of his or her child becoming a professional athlete can lead many parents to encourage their young athletes to specialize in a single sport at an early age. However, recent studies have shown that athletes who participate in a variety of sports are more likely to compete at an elite level than those who specialize in a single sport1.

There is a lot of value in introducing young boys and girls to a wide array of sports at an early age. As explained by Jonathan Isaac (Director of Programming at True North Sports Camps), "Understanding the importance of being exposed to a number of different sports for young athletes was one of the main reasons why we branched out from baseball to establish our Flag Football, Basketball, Soccer and Multi-Sport Camps.

The Three Main Benefits of Multi-Sport Participation:

1. Developing Physical Literacy
One of the most important benefits of multi-sport participation is the development of physical literacy skills, which are critical to all young athletes’ development. By practicing fundamental movement skills – such as running, throwing and catching – boys and girls gain the confidence and ability to participate in a variety of physical activities. Multi-sport participation ensures that athletes experience an assortment of activities requiring different movement and motor skills. For example, flag football stresses the importance of footwork whereas baseball focuses on hitting. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Sports Sciences, “athletes who participated in multiple sports were found to be more physically fit, have better gross motor coordination, more explosive strength, and better speed and agility than those who specialized.”2

2. Reducing the Risk of Injury
Another benefit to multi-sport participation is the reduction in the risk of injuries. The University of Wisconsin recently investigated this issue and came to the conclusion that “Athletes who specialize in a single sport are more likely to sustain lower-body injuries at a higher risk than individuals who compete in multiple sports. By 60 percent.”.3 Participating in a variety of sports requires athletes to use different muscles in different ways, which can reduce the likelihood of injuries caused by overuse.

3. Avoiding Burnout
Specialization at a young age can have psychological impacts as well. By training intensely in just one sport year-round, there is a tendency for parents to create a
professional atmosphere for their young athletes too early in life. This can lead to burnout, as athletes no longer enjoy the game (forgetting that sports are meant to be fun!) and can result in kids dropping out of competitive sports altogether. Multi-sport participation provides athletes with a mental break from a particular team, coach and/or training program. Introducing variety allows athletes to re-discover what they love about a particular sport!

So when should kids specialize?

Some degree of sport specialization is necessary to develop elite level skills. However, for the reasons outlined above (namely to develop physical literacy and minimize injury, emotional stress and burnout), it is our view that intense training in a single sport should be delayed until late adolescence. Active for Life (“AFL”) is a not-for-profit organization created to promote physical literacy. To help understand how kids should develop as athletes, AFL created the Long-Term Athlete Development model:

Stage 1: Active Start (0-6 years)
Stage 2: FUNdamentals (girls 6-8, boys 6-9)
Stage 3: Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
Stage 4: Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16)
Stage 5: Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
Stage 6: Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
Stage 7: Active for Life (any age participant)
For more information, we encourage you to visit AFL’s website (http://activeforlife.com/multisportadvantage/).

What is my role as a parent?

First and foremost, never forget that sports are meant to be fun! Encourage your young athletes to participate in as many sports as possible, especially at a young age. For example, suggest playing a new sport each season, as opposed to only one sport year-round. Support the diversification of their athletic interests and cheer them on like crazy! You will be setting them up for a better chance at success when the time is right to specialize later in life.

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658407/
2. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2011.642808
3. http://www.heraldandnews.com/sports/study-says-single-sport-athletes-more-prone-to-injuries/article_4c480996-1636-532b-8604-b1c519a608f7.html

About the Author: Gabriel Diamond is a co-founder of True North Sports Camps. True North Sports Camps provides year-round sports programming for boys and girls ages 4 to 14 years old. We offer summer day camps as well as after-school and weekend clinics for a variety of sports, including: baseball, flag football, soccer, basketball and multi-sport. At True North Sports Camps, we believe that recreational sports are an important part of every child’s development and we make it our top priority to deliver a truly memorable experience. Find out more at: www.truenorthcamps.com.

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