The 2016 NFL Draft, along with many drafts before it, debunked the "more is better" myth many parents and coaches believe regarding athletic development. Twenty-eight of 31 first-round draft picks were multi-sport athletes in high school, 12 of them played more than two sports as kids.
Many parents fear that if they do not encourage their student-athlete to focus on a single sport, he or she will fall behind the competition and lose all chance of success. Using pro athletes as an example, we know this is not the case. In fact, early specialization may actually ruin your son's or daughter's chances of playing at the next level. Here's why.
The more an athlete plays, the more likely an injury will occur. This is not a lesson in mathematical probability. I am referring to the fact that athletes who play the same sport year-round are much more likely to experience overuse injuries than athletes who mix it up. Each sport stresses the body in different ways, whether it be the shoulder for baseball pitchers or the groin for soccer players. With constant playing, imbalances form and overuse injuries soon follow.
No Strength, No Speed
When athletes are playing, they cannot be developing their strength and speed. This may seem like a Catch-22, but the biggest factors for athletes' ability to play at the next level is strength and speed, not necessarily skill. You can develop skills while going through a strength and conditioning program, but you cannot improve strength and speed very much during a competitive season.
Athletes who constantly play the same sport are likely to get burned out. Too often, parents push their children hard, adding practices and games to their already full schedule. Although a young athlete may enjoy playing the sport, eventually they will wish they had more time for other activities and their friends. Getting burned out can cause talented athletes to completely give up the sports they once loved to play.
How to Reach the Next Level
- Strength and Conditioning. Getting your athlete involved in a solid strength and conditioning program is by far the best thing you can do to develop him/her into a better athlete. Performance will improve, and the likelihood of injury will decrease.
- Nutrition. Athletes need proper nutrition to grow and develop. Without adequate levels of protein, carbs and fat, they will struggle to gain the necessary strength and speed to play at the next level.
- Multiple Sports. Playing multiple sports is a great way to create a well-rounded athlete. Each sport has unique demands, forcing athletes to adapt and grow.
- Rest. Rest is important to allow the mind and body to recharge. Taking days off from games, practice, and training is important to allow the body to repair itself. It is also important to get good sleep on a nightly basis.
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