The Training Table

I am often asked about whether it is beneficial or detrimental to play more than one sport. It seems more and more young people are putting all their eggs in one basket really early, playing only one.

When I was in high school, I played every sport available to females. This wasn’t a large number of sports, but it offered a good variety. The reasons for this were two-fold.

First, I went to a really small school, so the number of female athletes was pretty small. If you played one sport, you usually played two or three.

The second reason was that I liked to stay active and busy, and competing was fun. At my high school there were only four sports available to females. I even had a brief stint on the baseball team because we had no softball team. I then played softball in the summer for the local recreational league.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against early specialization in sports for several reasons. Early specialization actually inhibits overall athletic development, because the athlete continuously practices sport specific movements. They will develop those specific skills early, ahead of their peers, but then as they get older peers who are developing a wide range of skills pass them up. They don’t develop overall athletic skills because of the specialization.

Continuous repetitive movements specific to one sport can lead to muscle imbalance, tightness and eventually overuse injuries. The ‘itis’ injuries we see so frequently today — the throwing athlete with rotator cuff tendonitis, or lateral epicondylitis; the runner with plantar fascitis — all are overuse injuries.

There is also the burnout that many athletes experience because they play so many games of the same sport. By the time an athlete reaches high school, they may have played one sport year round for five or six years. Young people get bored with the same things over and over, and the pressure to perform just becomes too great for them, so they quit. Some never play that sport again because of the negative feelings they develop after years of pressure to perform.

Probably the biggest factor is having fun. The young athlete needs to have fun while participating in sport. The long-term goal is a life-long love of sport and fitness involvement. If a young person is not having fun, they won’t want to do it. If sport becomes a chore to them, they are likely to drop participation all together and not do anything fitness related. This leads to unhealthy lifestyles as an adult.

The great thing about playing the different sports was that I developed a lot of different skills, all of which helped me as an athlete. If I had to choose one sport at that time, there would have been no contest: I would have picked basketball. But I became a better basketball player and made a lot of memories playing volleyball, tennis, and track, softball, and for that brief time, even baseball.

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