When I was in high school, I ran Cross Country in the fall; I played basketball in the winter, and played softball in the spring. It wasn’t easy, but I was active and each sport helped me perform better in the others. I was a well-rounded athlete that remained injury free through college. My parents never pushed me to compete in three sports and they never suggested I give up one for the others. I was encouraged to participate, but never forced.
Today, it is harder to be a multi-sport athlete. Coaches expect a year round commitment and discourage the participation in other sports. AAU, Travel Teams, Clubs, & etc. eat up valuable “off time.” National Rankings in elementary school cause parents to push their young kids to devote hours and hours to one sport. The pressure these kids are under to specialize in one sport could produce coal. Girls and boys become burned out before they even reach middle school.
My son is athletic and plays multiple sports (baseball, golf, basketball, and soccer). He loves competing and is already on a 6U rookie travel ball team (Go SK Sluggers!). I have already been asked by other parents and coaches which sport will Wes specialize in and when will I stop encouraging him in the others? He’s 6! It just blows my mind!
These athletes are getting older and that means their bodies are also growing. Their still developing bodies are not given time to rest or recover from the stress of repetition and overuse and that could lead to serious and career ending injuries. There is muscle memory and then, there is muscle exhaust. ACL/MCL tears are commonplace now and numbers continue to rise. However, countless studies have shown that participating in multiple sports can lead to better muscle, motor, and skill development. It gives sport specific muscles a chance to rest and recuperate.
Athletes who specialize at such at an early age are under pressure to succeed and possibly provide for their family’s future. Kids who are pressured by their parents and coaches feel obligated to the best. The expectations are high due to the sheer amount of money and time it takes to commit to one sport completely. They are failures if they are not scouted and ranked in the top 100. Giving athletes a chance to be involved in various activities, allows them to have more experiences with different opportunities. It helps alleviate some of the stress that would come from focusing on one sport.
Being the star point guard on the basketball team and the backup catcher on the baseball team gives an athlete perspective on teamwork and cooperation. They learn that everyone plays their part, no matter the size of the role. Learning to adjust to roles on a team will spill over to the other part of their lives. Not everyone is the star. Not everyone can win. This is a huge and hard lesson to learn in life.
As a parent, I am proud my son participates in multiple sports. He is gaining confidence, strength, and most importantly social skills. I couldn’t even fathom forcing him to choose. I asked him recently what his favorite sport was. His response was simple, “Mommy, I don’t have a favorite. I have fun playing them all.” FUN. Isn’t that what it’s really about?