After going through a jaw dropping two plus weeks of watching the greatest athletes in the world do their magic in the London Olympics, it begs the question – How do these guys and gals do it? I mean, really, how much time and effort has gone into their preparation for this lifetime achievement of being an Olympian? Surely, they must have started with they were very young, right?
Thus began many a conversation around our house when watching these extremely talented folks break records in the pool, on the track and many of the other venues at the London games. That’s why we generally have the notion that any elite athlete, be they Olympian or pro, must have been training specifically in that sport since they could barely walk.
Variety is the Spice of Life… for Sports
In this day of kids playing in travel leagues, having personal coaches and spending so much time on one sport, we have to ask ourselves if it makes sense to keep doing this or to encourage kids to play more than one sport.
Advantages of playing multiple sports as kids :
This is true in sports, as well. Many coaches worth their salt will point to the advantages of playing multiple sports as kids. The variety that playing more than one sport offers a youngster keeps feeding their enthusiasm. Some down time away from a sport helps a child look forward to the other sports they play, and consequently to the original sport, as well.
For example, having kids playing baseball from April through August, and then transitioning into either football or soccer gives them an enthusiasm into both football and soccer.
They love baseball, but knowing that once baseball is done, they get a little ‘mental’ break from that game and really get into their fall sport. They look forward to the transition, to the new challenges, competition and the different social dynamic they will experience, as well.
All of these points contribute to their ability to grow as athletes as well as individuals.
The quickness and aggressive attributes players gain playing football may enhance his defense and base running once baseball rolls around. The footwork a player learns in basketball makes them a better infielder when turning a double play come next summer.
Mental lessons learned playing multiple sports:
There are mental lessons learned playing multiple sports, as well.
Learning how to play against a bigger, tougher opponent in basketball provides insight into one’s one tenacity, drive and ability to think strategically within the game. Don’t think that translates from sport to sport? Think again.
Challenges in multiple sports:
Different levels and types of competition present the player with multiple opportunities to learn how to work through diversity. These challenges present a unique chance to learn how to use your abilities and talents, both physically and mentally, to get as close to your best performance as possible. It also is a huge confidence builder. Knowing that you were able to hit against a really good pitcher in baseball now starts building your confidence as you face the challenge of blocking the other team’s best defensive lineman in football.
Personality changes by multiple sports:
Your belief in yourself increases, and enhances your personal self-worth as it pertains to the sports arena, but also as a person.
Success in sports breaks the chains that can keep performance levels locked up.
It also translates into freeing oneself up personally, as well. That is why you will see many stories of well-rounded athletes playing multiple sports doing well in the classroom as well as in their professional lives.
There are more and more reports on overuse injuries by kids specializing in one sport, rather than choosing to play in a variety of athletics. There is an entire movement out there to stop overuse injuries, because they have become so prevalent at earlier ages. There is also evidence that playing multiple sports can lower the risk of childhood obesity.
Coaches look for athletes that play multiple sports:
Let’s take it one step farther. Coaches look for competitiveness at the collegiate level. They like the competitiveness that is developed in athletes that play multiple sports. In addition many times they will see an athlete who has been a captain in different sports. This points to the leadership qualities that a player has and contributes to the overall development as a person, which college coaches love.
Take Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks and former coach of National Championship teams at USC. Coach Carroll pointed to the fact that,
“I need folks that are so uncommon physically, so aggressive that they can contend in excess of one [sport] here at USC. It’s really important that guys are well-rounded and just have this tendency for competitiveness that they have to express somewhere.”
Other coaches in different sports echo the same comments. That competitive desire being developed in a young athlete is what drives them to excel in and out of the sports arena.
The variety that playing in multiple sports programs during the year brings, I believe, far outweigh specializing in one sport. Take that variety and enjoy the many benefits that it brings. As an athlete you will gain so much both intrinsically and on the field, court or ice.