As a coach or parent of a youth athlete, we all want the same thing: To put them in the best position possible to be successful. We want them to have plenty of opportunities to be the best that they can be at whatever they decide to do.

Supporting your athlete is a great thing; however, sometimes that well-intentioned support can be detrimental to the athlete’s development. This applies to cases where coaches and parents pressure athletes into playing one sport, focusing exclusively on that one sport, and even seeking private coaching, all in an attempt to get a leg up on the competition.

The Question

Should coaches and parents encourage their athletes to play only one sport or would it be better to play and develop skills across a diversity of sports?

Scenario 1

Before we can answer that question, let’s ponder this scenario: Your child enjoys math. They excel in the subject. In fact, they’ve even mentioned their desire to be a mathematician when they grow up. Does this mean your child should only learn math in school? Should they just not even bother with the other subjects like English, Science, Art, or Physical Education?

The answer is most likely, no. Instead, you’d want them to learn all of the subjects that any student their age needs in order to grow and develop.

Sports and athletics are no different from this school scenario. While focusing on one sport can get you much better at that sport, there are skills in other sports that are worth learning for any athlete.

Scenario 2

Here’s another scenario: When you’re applying for a job, what do you put on your resume? You list all of your previous experience. Employers are searching for a qualified individual with a range of experience and skills.

The number and past jobs, paired with your success in those positions, is an indicator of your quality as an employee. This same idea can be applied to sports. Playing one sport — like having one job — can limit you.

If you look at Olympic athletes, just about all of them played multiple sports early in their career before picking and focusing exclusively on one.

Olympians dedicate their life to excelling at one sport to the point of excellence. And if you ask them, the hardest part about competing at that level of competition is burnout. Without getting into the science and psychology of burnout, suffice to say that playing one sport can, and often does, get boring for athletes. Athletes can also burnout physically — playing one sport year in and year out can take a toll on the body. Using the same muscles to complete the same actions can lead to injury and exhaustion.

The Benefits of Being a Multi-Sport Athlete:

  • Playing multiple sports helps athletes avoid burnout.
  • Playing multiple sports forces athletes to use different parts of the body and learn new movements.
  • Playing multiple sports teaches athletes how to work with different types of people, navigate different team dynamics and learn new perspectives.
  • Playing multiple sports gives the body time to physically recover from the demands of the last sport.
  • Playing multiple sports gives your mind a break, so that when you return to your sport you are excited, engaged and prepared to give it your all.

At VSP South Bay, we believe that athletes should play as many sports as they want, and can, through high school. When an athlete is done growing, that’s the time to decide what sport to specialize in. If they do this, they will be a passionate, fierce, and well-rounded athlete.