By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
You have a child playing sports and he or she is pretty good. You’re beginning to think about the next level, whether that be making the high school team or maybe even playing in college. Your child’s coach wants them to play year-round and focus on just that sport. Is that what’s best?
You, and your child, have a tough decision on your hands. There are pros and cons on both sides. And some sports may be more conducive to non-specialization than others.
Those on the “pro” side (excuse the pun) of playing multiple sports might point out this interesting statistic: In the 2018 NFL Draft 29 of 32 first round draftees were multi-sport athletes in high school. This number was 30 of 32 in 2017. However, there are two things about football that make it a little different than other sports. First, is not year-round. Football is typically played only in the fall so there is time to fit in at least one other season. Plus, it is not a club sport and most high school football coaches are open to, and likely encouraging of, multiple sports for their players.
I know from experience that some sports, (I’m looking at you, soccer) make it very difficult to fit in other activities. If you are playing at the highest level of club soccer there is often a twelve-month commitment, lots of travel, and no off-season. Because more colleges recruit from the club, and not the high school teams, players with aspirations of playing at a university are probably feeling locked into this lone option.
I am not going to get on a soap box and preach the benefits of multiple sports. I think we all know what they are:
Kids who play multiple sports tend to stay away from injuries.
Overuse injuries are very common in kids who play one sport because they are using the same muscles, bones and tendons repetitively. Mixing up the activity through various other exercises gives those muscles a rest while strengthening complimentary muscles which help prevent injury.
Kids who play multiple sports tend to avoid burnout.
Think about going to the gym and doing the exact same workout every day. Eventually you’d get bored. Imagine eating the same dinner each night. Same thing. Plus, kids need a break from their coach, from their teammates, from their routine. Playing different sports not only provides this mental respite but adds the all-important component of fun into their athletics.
Many college and pro scouts love a multi-sport athlete.
Believe it or not, a baseball scout loves a kid who also plays football. A softball scout will be impressed that a recruit also plays basketball or runs track. College and pro coaches want kids who want to compete. And playing different sports shows that love of competition is strong.
I understand the worry. If my son or daughter takes a break from the club team to play another sport, someone else will fill their place and they may never get it back. It’s a shame we must feel that way, but the concern is legitimate.
I have two personal anecdotes regarding this conundrum. My second son started on the high school varsity baseball team his junior year. His senior year he was the only returner to not attend fall baseball, because he played football. When the football season ended and he came back to the baseball team, he had lost his starting position. But he still ended up playing college and even professional baseball and, to this day, he will say his senior year of football is the best sports experience of his life.
My daughter is a soccer player and she also played in college and professionally. Her club soccer team’s schedule was relentless, but she managed to work in a season of high school lacrosse just to try it out. She will tell you that she is very sad she didn’t get to play softball beyond middle school. But she will also admit that if she had tried to do both, she it would have been more difficult to maintain her position on her club team and may not have received a division one scholarship. So, while she feels she missed out, she is not sure she would change her decision.
The best advice I can give is, if possible, play as many sports as you can. If you have multiple options in terms of teams and coaches, see which coaches encourage or at least tolerate other sports. And be sure everyone’s goals are aligned. I know of parents who pushed their child into specializing in one sport, not allowing them to pursue others they wanted to try, only to find out their child didn’t want to go as far as the parent hoped anyway. They gave up sports altogether, didn’t have the same dream as mom and dad, but missed a lot of fun along the way. Let’s not forget that playing at “the next level” is not necessarily the only reason to participate in athletics.
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at email@example.com