Single Sport Athletes need another sport

"You must play only one sport."
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"You cannot play only one sport."

There is a world of difference in these statements.

It is easy to look down upon the parent or coach who highly cncourages demands that an athlete cut down to one sport. And rightly so.

We know that specializing in one sport too early can be problematic in terms of health, and potentially adverse to their ultimate peak performance (see footnote below).  This is especially the case when the child or young adult has a desire to participate in something else. Childhood is short. Life is short. Kids can and should be encouraged to do what is healthy and fun for them. Anyone who demands that someone play exclusively one sport is off the mark and in serious want of perspective.

More recently, it has become common to criticize all single sport athletes in a similar vein.

But what about the serious athlete who does not want to play another sport?

Now more than ever, parents and athletes are asking for one year-round sport. If an organization does not offer it, they travel elsewhere, presumably to a place that takes the sport "more seriously."

But what if truly respecting the total athlete, including their health and recovery, will ultimately help them reach the highest level in their *focus* sport?

For a young athlete who loves one sport, I think it is ideal for them to play something else as well. Encountering a wider variety of mental and physical stress is a good thing for anyone. A break will do wonders for perspective and physical ability. Or, to put it in more marketable terms;

What if gaining The Edge on the competition has to do with staying active but shifting gears, experiencing a different role (possibly not the star), and generally having a rhythm to the year? 

Really, I keep saying that the next "Big Thing" in sports performance is to truly, like REALLY, optimize and respect recovery rather than just giving it lip service.

But let's say the child, coach, or parent is still not convinced on the value of another activity. Do we strong-arm them into it? No way!

Being a single sport athlete can be done poorly and can be done well.

Single-sport athlete done poorly looks like playing with intensity 4 seasons per year. Leagues, tournaments, showcases, you-name-it, YES to all've it. Let's fire it up and be perpetually ahead! And if there is a week off, let's train twice per day, three, no, four times as hard!

Going hard in the sport year-round is not advantageous. Again, going hard in the sport year-round is not ideal. A critical part of dominating a sport may indeed mean taking a (relative) break from that sport.

Going hard year-round by no means guarantees a better athlete and greatly increases the likelihood of injury. 

Ironically, I've also seen Single-sport athlete done poorly look like sitting around for three months playing X-box. Both of these extremes result in sub-optimal performance at best.

Single-sport athlete done well involves:

-Identifying a peak season or event(s)

-Carefully planning a build up to it

-Paying great respect to the stress-recovery process

-A great deal of moderate-intensity deliberate practice

-Filling the off seasons with ancillary activities that specifically match the needs of the athlete to the demands of the sport. May I suggest a focus on targeted resistance training and conditioning as your "off season sport?"

An example:

My sons have caught soccer fever. The free time once reserved for fishing, basketball, flag football, biking, swimming, or practicing flips in the back yard is now ALL filled with juggling, playing small-sided games, arguing about small-sided games, soccer practices, and actual league games.

Two of the three of them have decided on one sport. I'm happy for their zeal. They can get away with it since they are still relatively young. But I suspect it will not last. If they don't want to play other sports, I will attempt to sporadically distract them with many serious and structured training techniques such as mountain biking, hiking, swimming, and playing obstacle course. Later I will encourage them to hit the weights specifically in ways that support soccer.

I hope that they will understand the process of consistent effort and recovery.

I hope they will buy in to the idea that you can get better for soccer EACH DAY without playing soccer every day. 

I hope they will learn the value of building resiliency, strength and power with training as a tool to improve toward soccer without involving the exact same physical stresses of the sport.

I hope they will keep having fun, learning to enjoy the process of working toward a great end, and building life skills that transfer beyond the field.

But that all may be a hard sell, coming from their dad, since dads rarely know anything ; )

More on this HERE with the Wager Brothers at GoWags Baseball.

Risks of being a single-sport athlete (presumably) DONE POORLY
  1. Adult Inactivity: A study by Ohio State University found that children who specialized early in a single sport led to higher rates of adult physical inactivity. Those who commit to one sport at a young age are often the first to quit, and suffer a lifetime of consequences.
  2. Overuse Injury: In a study of 1200 youth athletes, Dr Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70% to 93% more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports!
  3. Burnout: Children who specialize early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment

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