As a culture, we’re obsessed with being “the best” at whatever it is we do. We tend to set a really high bar for ourselves, and even build crazy guidelines to validate our efforts. Have you ever heard of these numbers?
They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.
They also say you’re not a good writer until you’ve written a million words.
Every job posting lists a minimum number of years experience required to be qualified.
Even muskie fishermen can’t escape it, as muskies are known as the “fish of 10,000 casts.”
This mindset is prevalent in student-athletes. Many kids are taught that in order to be really good at a particular sport they need to focus solely on that sport. You want to be a college hockey player? You better only play hockey. There’s simply not enough time to try football, baseball, gymnastics, swimming, or anything else for that matter. At least not if you want to be good.
We’re here to emphatically tell you that this mindset is wrong. And we can back it up!
Below are 3 simple reasons why kids shouldn’t focus on a single sport, and instead should try many sports and become better all-around athletes. I mean, how else will we ever find the next Dave Winfield?
Special thanks to Changing The Game Project for providing inspiration for this article.
1. Medical experts warn against kids becoming single-sport athletes.
An article published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine explicitly states, “Early sport specialization may not lead to long-term success in sports and may increase risk for overuse injury and burnout. With the possible exception of early entry sports such as gymnastics, figure skating, and swimming/diving, sport diversification should be encouraged at younger ages.” Also, the report estimates that between 46% and 54% of all sports injuries are due to overuse.
2. Elite coaches actively seek multi-sport athletes.
One common argument for single-sport focus is that is necessary to earn a college scholarship. Pete Carroll is the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks NFL football team, and was formerly the head coach at the University of Southern California, a very prestigious college football program.
When asked about his recruiting preferences during an interview published in STACK Magazine, Carroll said, “The first questions I’ll ask about a kid are, ‘What other sports does he play? What does he do? What are his positions? Is he a big hitter in baseball? Is he a pitcher? Does he play hoops?’ All of those things are important to me. I hate that kids don’t play three sports in high school. I think that they should play year-round and get every bit of it that they can through that experience. I really, really don’t favor kids having to specialize in one sport.”
Urban Meyer, who coached Ohio State to the 2015 NCAA National Championship in football, recruited primarily multi-sport athletes as well. This tweet from @ohiovarsity says it all.
Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer are just two of many experienced coaches who value the overall athleticism of a player. For even the most serious of athletes pursuing college scholarships, this is evidence that well-rounded athleticism, which can only be refined by the unique body movements and skills developed playing other sports, is often necessary at the next level.
3. The pros themselves recognize the value in playing several sports.
Did you know Minnesota Wild superstar Zach Parise likes playing tennis in his free time? He is quoted on the NBC Olympics website admitting “I’m pretty good.” We don’t doubt it, Zach! The lateral movement across court, combined with hand-eye coordination and overall balance, makes tennis a great summertime sport to compliment hockey.
Larry Fitzgerald, a Minnesota hometown hero and NFL wide receiver, said in the aforementioned STACK Magazine article, “Today, a lot of kids individualize in a specific sport. I think one of the things that helped me most was playing everything. I played basketball, I played football, I ran track. I even played soccer one year, [and] I played baseball. I think it allowed me to recruit different muscles [and] work on different things that I normally wouldn’t. And, it gave me a greater appreciation for the sport that I’ve come to love.”
Larry’s last point is especially interesting. Without trying other sports, Larry would not have fully appreciated his favorite sport, football. Even though most athletes never turn pro, the experience of playing multiple sports has lifelong value. For a variety of reasons, many young athletes find value in trying other sports. It extends their social networks, introduces them to new teammates, friends, and coaches, and allows them to experience new locations, situations, and competitions.
Kids deserve a well-rounded experience.
The fact is, it just makes sense to encourage kids to participate in many different sports at a young age. Early participation in multiple sports leads to better overall motor skills, builds unique muscle memory in quick-twitch muscles and fibers, and strengthens important tendons and ligaments. Kids deserve the opportunity to try these new games, so they may build stronger foundations for the future. But remember, it’s a team effort, and parents should feel encouraged to support new experiences for their children.
We also strongly encourage parents to educate themselves about injury prevention techniques and overuse injury warning signs. The expert sports medicine doctors and highly trained sports performance specialists at Twin Cities Orthopedics are great resources for learning more about injury prevention and ensuring young athletes are developing properly.
But the responsibility isn’t solely on parents. Coaches, teachers, extended family, and friends can all be influential in getting kids to try new sports. You can read our article Getting Kids Interested In Sports for helpful tips and advice. The Changing the Game Project article, which was used as inspiration for this post, is a great read as well.
Together we can develop healthier, better athletes and make sports safer and more enjoyable for everyone!