By Ken Reed

We’ve written several times through the year about the negatives of early sport specialization.

This time we’ll take a slightly different approach by focusing on the positives of young people playing multiple sports.

1. Playing Multiple Sports Improves Overall Athleticism

Playing multiple sports develops different muscles, increases flexibility and enhances movement, all of which are helpful as athletes progress in any sport.

“The more pathways that the body makes between the brain and the muscles helps improve the athlete’s ability to move in a lot of different ways,” says Michele LaBotz, a sports medicine physician.

As an example, individual sports like surfing and skateboarding help improve balance and agility, which is beneficial as a foundation for developing more sport-specific skills.

2. Kids That Sport Sample Have a Greater Chance of Becoming Lifelong Athletes

Participating in a variety of sports — both team and individual — when young increases the chances children will become active adults.

In addition, research has shown that children who grow up in active families are more likely to become active adults.

Kids with parents who are active and participate with them in sports and other physical activities are likely to do the same when they grow up and have their own children.

3. Multi-Sport Athletes Outperform Single Sport Specialists Once They Pick a Sport to Focus On

Multi-sport athletes aren’t only generally healthier than single sport athletes, they are also better at building sport-specific skills in a sport they may choose to focus on down the road.

The benefits of playing multiple sports when young aren’t just physical, they are also mental. The mental skills developed through playing a variety of sports — team and individual — when young pay off in the high school and college years if an athlete chooses to focus on one sport.

4. Multi-Sport Athletes Have a Lower Injury Risk

Young athletes that specialize in a single sport are not only more likely to drop out of that sport by their teen years, they are more prone to injury.

Focusing on one sport builds imbalances in muscles, ligaments, etc., and leads to overuse injuries. Injury risk is lowered by playing sports that require different movements and muscle groups (e.g., throwing and raquet sports for the upper body and soccer, basketball and running sports for the lower body).

In addition, single-sport athletes can develop certain body image standards for their one sport, which can lead to psychological issues with body image and disordered eating problems. That’s less of a risk factor with multi-sport athletes.

5. Multi-Sport Athletes Have More Time to Pick a Sport They Want to Eventually Specialize In

Young athletes are still discovering who they are and what they are passionate about. A child at 10 years old may prefer one sport but change his or her mind a couple years later.

In addition, young athletes’ bodies will change as they grow and they might find that their body type is more conducive to a sport other than the one they initially chose to focus on.

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Parents who expose their children to multiple sports and other physical activities at a young age are helping their young athletes figure out where their talents and passions are and what the best sports fit might be for them.

LaBotz is a strong supporter of multi-sport participation for children and teenagers.

“I make a comparison with other healthy behaviors,” says LaBotz.

“For example, carrots are healthy, and if a kid likes carrots, that’s great and should be encouraged. But if your kid is only eating carrots, that’s not good. They need more variety in their diet. The same is true for physical activity: Variety is a key component and too much of a good thing is not a good thing.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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