By Ken Reed

The unfortunate trend in youth and high school sports the last couple decades is toward specialization. Young athletes have increasingly chosen to focus on a single sport in their developmental years, often as young as eight or nine years old. (Perhaps more accurately, they’ve been strongly encouraged — some may say forced — to play only one sport by parents and coaches.)

The popular belief is that only by specializing in one sport can athletes reach their full potential, land a college athletic scholarship, and perhaps one day, make it to the Olympics or pro sports. However, the evidence differs from this belief. Multi-sport athletes are generally more well-rounded athletically and advance further in the sport they ultimately choose as their preferred sport. In addition, studies have shown that multi-sport athletes have fewer injuries and experience burnout less often.

A recent study commissioned by the Women’s Sports Foundation, called “Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters,” found there were many benefits to sports participation relative to non-participation. Moreover, the study revealed that multi-sport athletes fared better than single sport athletes. Multi-sport athletes did better on key measures such as the amount of daily exercise, adequate sleep, and the likelihood of eating breakfast each morning.

“In many cases, there’s an amplified effect if they’re playing two or more sports,” said Nicole Zarrett, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina and one of the study’s co-authors.

The study also found that teens who participate in sports were more likely to have an A or A- grade average at school and more likely to plan on graduating from a four-year college. Additional benefits of sports participation include scoring higher than non-participants in psychological well-being. Athletes scored higher on measures including self-esteem, social support networks, and loneliness.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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