Justin Semeyn, High School state champion Pole Vaulter who also participated in football, diving and soccer. Earned a Track and Field scholarship to the University of Florida
Why young athletes should play multiple sports
The last several years I have witnessed a disturbing trend among local high school coaches here in Tampa. There is a tendency to limit their athletes to one sport so as to “specialize” and maximize their potential in whatever sport they play. This is not limited to just football as I have seen first hand how baseball, volleyball and even girls soccer coaches do not allow their athletes or strongly discourage them from playing other sports. Some coaches have even gone as far to state how their program is like a University, so they have nicknamed their school Smith University instead of Smith High School(fictitious name as I am not referring to any one school in particular). In terms of a young athlete’s physical and social development the practice of sport specialization is one of the worst things a coach or parent can do. Below I will explore the reasons why and even give you a few facts of professional athletes and how playing multiple sports helped them achieve success in their professional career.
Particularly for younger kids, sports provide a critical way to develop fine and gross motor movements. Kicking a ball, making a catch, swinging a baseball bat, and serving a tennis ball all require a specialized set of movements. Exposure to numerous sports helps kids gain these important motor skills. As a result, children who have played several sports tend to have superior coordination to those who were limited to just one sport. At higher levels of play, this can make the difference between being middle of the pack versus a standout star.
Playing a sport helps a person learn more about how his or her body moves, but a single sport often results in a relatively restricted set of movements. Playing numerous sports — particularly if at least one is a team sport — will help young athletes gain better body awareness. Additionally, they will learn how to control their movements and develop awareness of nearby players, honing their competitive edge.
Another benefit to playing several sports is that it keeps student athletes from falling into a rut. Specializing in one sport causes kids to work the same muscles in the same way, which can cause them to plateau or should I say #injury maker. Mixing things up with an additional sport or two keeps their bodies and minds challenged. Not only does this result in improved strength, but it may also prevent injury due to repetitive motion.
A Healthier Psychological Approach
A budding middle school or high school-aged athlete runs the risk of burning out if pressured to compete in a single sport. Additionally, highly self-motivated athletes may find themselves becoming ultra-competitive or struggling to cope with losses. Over time, this attitude may become a roadblock to succeeding at a sport. When participating in multiple sports, it is natural for most kids to have strengths and weaknesses. For a pro on the soccer field, learning a new set of skills on the volleyball court or baseball diamond can teach valuable lessons about persistence, teamwork, and discipline.
Coaches/Parents, it is important to resist the temptation to have a child commit to training in one particular sport year-round. This is particularly critical for kids who have a strong potential to excel at the college or even professional level. Playing a different sport during the offseason can maximize a student athlete’s performance at all levels of play. In fact, a survey of NFL quarterbacks found that 95% of the players participated in two sports in high school, while 70% played three or more sports. Similarly, of the 47 students that Ohio State University coach Urban Meyer has recruited to play football, 42 of them played multiple sports in high school. The story is the same for the World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team, where team members collectively played at least 14 different sports in high school. No matter what successful franchise you look at the choice to play multiple sports stands out as a key feature among dominant athletes.
Personally, I have been fortunate during my 11 year coaching career. I was able to work with some outstanding coaches who shared a similar belief of athletes playing multiple sports. I am very proud to say that I played a small part in the multiple division 1 scholarships and the handful that have gone on to play professionally in their chosen sport. The majority of these athletes are football players and track was a secondary sport to them. But without fail each and every one of them has come back and said how grateful they were to have the opportunity to run track. So coaches/parents let your kids try different sports. It will help them in so many ways and give them the tools to be successful in the game of life!