“Going pro” is a dream that many youth athletes (and their parents) have. After all, professional baseball, basketball, and football players are pretty much superstars in American culture. What little boy or girl doesn’t dream of hitting a homerun in the bottom of the ninth, score the winning basket at the buzzer, or win an Olympic gold medal in their favorite sport? Many sports parents believe that the best chance their child has of going pro is to specialize in one sport at an early age. After all, it takes 10,000 hours to become an “expert,” right? So bring on the coaches, the extra sessions, the summer sports camps, the year-round travel teams and more—my kid is going pro!
But specialization at an early age comes with a price; youth athletes are more likely to suffer from overuse injuries and burnout when they only focus on one sport all year round for their entire athletic career. Here are some reasons why becoming a multi-sport athlete might be better for your child in the long run:
1. Multi-sport athletes learn to love being active.
One of the best things about youth sports is that it gets our kids unplugged and off the couch. We want to encourage an active and healthy lifestyle that our children will embrace long after their days of youth sports are over. But early specialization could backfire and turn kids off from athletics all together if they burn out. Being a multi-sport athlete helps keep them active but gives them more variety to look forward to. Think about it—aren’t you much more likely to work out if you know you won’t be bored with the same routine?
The American Academy of Pediatrics found that “Well-rounded, multisport athletes have the highest potential to achieve the goal of lifelong fitness and enjoyment of physical activity while avoiding some of the pitfalls of overuse, overtraining, and burnout.”
2. Multi-sport athletes become better athletes overall.
Different sports work different muscles in different ways, and playing multiple sports actually helps your child become a better athlete overall. By becoming a multi-sport athlete players give different muscle groups time to relax (like their throwing arm) while building up their strength in other areas (such as their legs). But it’s not as if the skills and strengths earned in one sport don’t influence their prowess in others. For instance, in basketball players need to be able to change directions on a dime, which could be a very handy skill for a shortstop that needs to react the moment a line drive is hit. Swimmers need powerful lungs, which can also help build up their endurance on the soccer field.
3. Being a multi-sport athlete might actually increase their chances at a college scholarship.
Many sports parents dream of the elusive sports scholarship that will help pay for college, but is early specialization the best way to get that scholarship? Not always. Ohio State baseball coach Greg Beals says the majority of his team is made up of players who played more than just baseball in high school. Some college coaches prefer multi-sport athletes because it shows dedication, commitment, and a willingness to learn new skills. Multi-sport athletes might also get noticed by a wider variety of college scouts, which could increase their chances of getting a scholarship.
Still believe that the only chance your child has of going pro is to specialize at an early age? Well here’s what Super Bowl champion Roman Oben has to say about that;
As a two sport college athlete, how do you feel about specialization in youth sports? What would you like to say to those that support specialization at a young age?
Besides the obvious dangers of repetitive usage injuries, specialization only benefits parents who want to coach their kids all year long, and youth sports companies & trainers who want to up-sell parents – it doesn’t benefit the kids in most cases. When parents started buying into the notion that you have to make the same “athletic investment” for kids as you do in other things (music lessons, academic tutoring, etc…), that’s when we all failed.
Roman, by the way, was a two sport collegiate athlete.