Be Careful Promoting Multiple SportsFeb 26, 2023
Playing multiple sports has so many benefits, but rarely do we speak about or discuss the problems that can come with it.
I have a few caveats before we get to the meat of this post.
Playing multiple sports growing up is important, especially up until 13 years old. This post is not referring to that time frame of development.
As you read, keep in mind that every parent will heavily consider that important part of development into the decision of what sports to play.
I am specifically referring to the youth ages of 13-18, usually 7th grade to 12th grade. I personally believe playing multiple sports is a must up until this point for holistic development. This post is being written to address the specifics of the demands of the multi-sport athletes of the prep-aged athlete and the dangers that come with it.
Let's dive in.
Sport seasons have completely changed over the last 10 years.
I was in high school from 2008 to 2012. I played 3 sports (football, basketball, baseball) until I was a sophomore in high school, when I decided to drop basketball.
I only dropped basketball because well... I just wasn't that good. Good enough to make the varsity team, but not good enough to be anything more than a moral supporter.
7v7 organizations were not a thing at this point. Travel baseball was well in swing with the uprising of the Perfect Game organization.
My year usually looked like this:
- Fall: Football Season Only
- Winter: Workout and prepare for baseball
- Spring: Baseball only
- Summer: Football during the week, select baseball tournaments on the weekend
Today's world is NOT LIKE THIS.
The explosion of outside organizations in all sports, along with the glamorization of it on social media, makes decisions on parents harder than ever before.
I do know this... the outside organizations are not going anywhere anytime soon. The momentum (and frankly, the profit) is too strong to stop it.
So what does multiple sports look like now vs what it did 10+ years ago? Let's unpack it.
The value in multiple sports (outside of the social, psychological, and human development aspect which I addressed above) is to be exposed to many different vectors, velocities, and spaces of both movement and problems to solve. This makes an athlete more robust with a wider and stable foundation of skills. It also avoids repeating the same motor patterns over and over to eventually have something in the system break. If repeating movement patterns over and over, the body will eventually adapt specifically for that and that could cause issues.
Kids 10+ years ago did not play thousands and thousands of hours of competition year round. Especially not in the same sport. The opportunities and leverages of playing at the next level were simply not available.
The best athletes played multiple sports because they were already the better athletes walking their hallways... not the other way around. Did playing other sports aide performance in other sports? Sure. But that is not the reason WHY they play.
The ability to play multiples sports 10+ years ago was feasible. There was not near the social pressure on parents to participate in such extra curricular sporting events. Today, that is not the case.
Being a Multi-Sport Athlete Today is Rough...
Every sport has a club-level affiliation with it now. 7v7, AAU, Club Volleyball, Club Soccer, Travel Baseball... you name it. These organizations do such a great job of leveraging their platforms that almost every parent succumbs to participating in some capacity to give their kid the best chance of playing at the next level.
What parents don't realize is that they are burning the candle at both ends.
The Harsh Reality
Imagine in the summer being a 3 sport athlete in high school today:
Football workouts in the morning. Basketball play dates in the month of June. AAU Tournaments. Travel Baseball tournaments. Team 7v7 events.
Can you see how the system can't hold up?
Everyone wants to blame the crowd of specialization, but the multi-sport demand just might be even more on the body!
More is not better. Better is better.
Are kids bigger, faster, smarter, and more skilled than ever before? Yes! They are!
But... what many coaches do not understand, and parents certainly do not understand, is with higher outputs and capacities comes with higher risk of injury.
Imagine developing a NASCAR engine but only having the infrastructure of a Go-Kart
Something is bound to break!
Injury mechanism is simple: Applied Force > Tissue Tolerance
If recovery truly never happens, and global systems and tissues are not given a chance to prepare for those applied forces, the infrastructure will not hold up.
Multi-Sport is not the answer.
Specialization is not the answer.
Smart planning of competition and preparation is.
But only if the decision makers are willing to sacrifice their own FOMO.
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