Playing sports has evolved from kids playing for fun to athletic programs on a much more competitive level than ever. This competition has created a world where kids spend more time on sport-specific training to enhance skills in one area, creating a disadvantage for young athletes.
Studies have shown that multiple sport athletes have an advantage when playing in college and beyond. During the most recent NFL Draft, 26 of 31 players drafted in the first round were multi-sport athletes in high school. Almost 90 percent of all players drafted this year were multi-sport athletes. Ohio State Buckeyes head football coach Urban Meyers posted a photo that showed, in one recruiting class, 42 of 47 recruits were multi-sport athletes. Beyond the collegiate advantage these athletes have, there are several other benefits to playing more than one sport.
Dr. James Andrews, who has worked with major athletes like Michael Jordan, Brett Favre and Drew Brees, is worried about the future of athletes who focus on just one sport. In his book, Any Given Monday, he discusses how switching sports allows an athlete’s body to recover. When athletes play only one sport, their bodies perform repetitive motions. Repetition causes stress on the body that creates muscle tears. Studies identify this strain as a major problem in today’s athletes. Switching up the routine by playing different sports develops muscles in other parts of the body, encourages kids to stay active, and allows muscles overworked from repetition time to recover.
Sports are transitive
Athletes can apply skills and knowledge acquired by participating in one sport across many different sports. Many people see basketball and soccer as completely different sports. However, the transition game in basketball is visible throughout a soccer match. The up and down action, filling lanes during fast break transitions and even playing man-to-man defense exist in both games. Do you want your child to be great at basketball? Have them play some soccer. A child who wants to excel at baseball should give thought to playing hockey or lacrosse. Hand-eye coordination is essential in these sports and the combination will help a child be successful. Nolan Ryan, holder of a record 7 no-hitters in baseball, used to throw a football to help with his curveball and arm strength. The idea here is that multi-sport athletes excel by taking advantage of the transitive nature of sports.
When an athlete reaches the end of high school and is looking to play college sports, recruiters and coaches know how they perform. These kids have proven themselves physically. However, there is another important aspect that coaches look at: character. Multi-sport athletes have learned how to pick themselves up when they stumble. The character of the athlete shows in how he or she reacts and competes in other sports that may not come as easily as their primary sport. Coaches want to see how athletes handle and overcome struggle. Sports build character, and a great athlete and team player will be humble under any circumstance.
Most parents don’t have their child play a sport with the goal of them becoming a professional athlete. They want their kids to be active, make friends, build character and have FUN! George Washington University surveyed youth sports participants. Nine out of 10 kids said fun was the main reason they participate. Playing the game and playing with their friends also made the top of the list, while winning was 48th, playing in tournaments was 63rd and receiving trophies came in 67th.
According to Changing the Game Project, nearly 70 percent of kids are dropping out of organized sports by the age of 13. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate the way kids view sports so it’s less about being the best and more about having fun. Encouraging kids to play a variety of sports gives them the chance to succeed on so many levels, resulting in youth that learn more, become better athletes and develop a life-long love of sports forever.
References: Andrews, D. J. (2014). “Any Given Monday.” D.J. Andrews.
“NFL Draft picks played multiple sports in high school.” Tracking Football. M. Branstad. https://www.trackingfootball.com/blog/88-5-2016-nfl-draft-picks-played-multiple-sports-high-school/.
“Why Kids Quit Sports.” Changing the Game Project. J. O’Sullivan. http://changingthegameproject.com/why-kids-quit-sports/.
“One Sport Athletes.” High School Sports Stuff. M. Rerick. http://highschoolsportsstuff.areavoices.com/2015/01/20/one-sport-athletes/.
“Multiple sport athletes dominate 1st round of NFL Draft again.” Tracking Football. B. Spilbeler. https://www.trackingfootball.com/blog/multiple-sport-athletes-dominate-1st-round-nfl-draft/.
“The Play: Ask Kids What They Want.” The Aspen Institute Project Play. http://youthreport.projectplay.us/the-8-plays/ask-kids-what-they-want/.