I ran into a good family friend this past weekend, and we began catching up on what’s been going on with each other over the past couple of years. She has two sons who are seven and eight, and they are involved in many activities outside of school, both sports-related and other. We somehow got on the topic of the other parents she interacts with regularly in the baseball bleachers and the basketball stands, and how a staggering number of them are already trying to specialize their child—at age 7—in one sport. This seemed odd to her given their young age. Given my background in sports and the fact that I now work in the field of athletics and recruiting, she asked my take on the subject.
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Should my child play multiple sports?
This is a topic we talk about a lot at NCSA, and it’s also one of the highest trending questions we get from parents calling in and attending events. It’s also a question our student-athletes ask our recruiting coaches on a daily basis: Should I stop playing “x” so I can focus more on “y”?
The truth is, forcing your child to specialize in a sport too early not only puts your son or daughter at a disadvantage, but it could also be downright hurtful.
The idea that only doing one thing or playing one sport will make you better is simply a misconception. Studies have proven it. Former athletes attest to it, too. So how come?
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Development in multiple areas is important.
Exposure to different activities and people at a young age is invaluable. Developing different skillsets is good for many reasons, but one of the strongest is that they complement each other and make you a better all-around player.
There is this idea that “If I’m trying to become a better softball player, I shouldn’t take time away from softball to play volleyball, a sport I’m not as good at but enjoy.”
The bottom line is that playing both sports develops different muscles, skills, and ways of thinking that simply cannot be acquired if you limit yourself one exclusively. Playing more than one sport also adds variety to your schedule, which lessens your chance of getting burned out and exposes you to different groups of people. Same goes for adding an instrument or a non-sport-related area of interest as an extracurricular. These are all wins.
Specializing too early can put your child at higher risk for injury.
I mentioned that playing multiple sports helps develop different muscle groups, which is good for the body for many reasons and makes you a better overall athlete.
Taking this a step further, specializing too early can severely impede physical development, making your child more prone to injury later on. Imagine if a young boy begins training year-round as a left-handed pitcher at age eight. By age thirteen, he will have been regularly throwing with his left arm for five years! And he’s still not even in high school! His arm muscle will not only be majorly overworked; other areas of his body will have received no work during his critical growth and development years.
RELATED: Benefits of Being A Multi-Sport Athlete
Let kids be kids.
Numbers don’t lie. Seven, eight, even nine years of age is not old enough for kids to have experienced enough sports or activities to narrow down and know what they want to play.
Kids need opportunities to engage in a wide range of extracurricular activities, so they can feel good about what they’re doing and be confident where their talents lie. As they develop their overall athleticism, you can help them understand where their passions and talents lie. And as they get to high school and begin thinking about the right collegiate athletic opportunity, remember—college coaches look for potential. They are interested in seeing gifted students with overall athleticism.
For whatever reason, you may really, really want your son or daughter to be a basketball player, but pushing him or her into it can breed resentment and cause early burnout.
Will your son or daughter be able to try every sport and extracurricular activity? Of course not. With the scheduling and financial commitment, so many activities take, that would be impossible. But you can help them explore their interests and hone in on a variety of skills. It is much better for them in the long run (or walk, or swim, or dance!).