One very important question a lot of parents asked is how many sports should a kid play. There is a lot of conflicting advice from your kid’s coach, school, friends, grandparents, and other parents as well. Some reckon kids are still young and should play only one sport while others think otherwise.
In order for us to answer this question, we have to examine what sports specialization is, as opposed to playing multi-sport, we will look into the reasons why it was chosen, and how it benefits you and your kid.
Follow me as I dive into the topic.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. Please seek the advice of your doctor and certified trainers for guidance.
What is sports specialization?
Sports specialization is when an athlete concentrates only on one sport intending to excel or specialize in that sport alone.
According to a study published by Pediatrics, “Sports specialization occurs when an athlete focuses on only 1 sport, usually at the exclusion of any other and often year-round”.
This is the traditional approach that a lot of coaches, clubs, schools, and parents believe will make their kids better players.
If parents want their kids to be better in soccer or baseball they would let them play that sport all year round.
Currently, a lot of coaches, clubs, and parents still encourage this method.
Why sports specialization?
One common reason is the influence of coaches, sports stars, and parents on their kids to specialize in one sport alone.
Another reason is that kids who played in a team may not want to lose their friends so they choose to remain. Also, they may fear that it is showing weakness to their teammates by joining other sports.
Sports stars are a major influence on kids who wanted to play and excel like them as well. Take Lionel Messi as an example, millions of kids worshipped him and decided to train in playing soccer.
This alone is a huge motivation for any kid to decide to ignore other sports altogether, to play soccer.
Sports scholarships also play a big part that making parents opt for sports specialization as the only means for their kids to enter college.
In a competitive environment, the kids are motivated to train hard in that sport in order to improve their performance and be selected by the coach.
This leaves no room to even consider playing another sport.
Lastly, financial constraints and lack of time may force parents to put their kids into playing only a single sport. Buying equipment, club membership, gas, and camps can be expensive and parents opted to choose only a single for the whole year.
Benefits of sports specialization
1) 10,000 hour rule
You may have heard or read about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule which he believed that anyone can master any skill if he or she trains correctly for 10,000 hours.
To excel in soccer skills requires a player to invest a lot of hours of practice and mental preparation to master it, so it makes perfect sense if your kid focuses 100% only on soccer training.
No doubt, your kid will become more competitive than his or her teammates and have a higher chance of performing better in that sport.
2) Strong determination
Athletes who focus on a specific sport will develop determination, high motivation, self-confidence, mental, and physical toughness.
When it is off-season your kid can enjoy a well-earned rest and do other things like hobbies, music, or spending time with families and friends.
Playing one sport also benefits the parents financially because they only buy sports equipment for one sport only, not to mention club fees, and gas for transport.
Disadvantages of sports specialization
Without a doubt, sports specialization can have a negative impact on a kid’s well-being as I will point out below.
1) Physical stress
The repetition of movement from playing the same sport all year can cause stress to the muscles, bones, and joints.
2) Overuse injuries
Injuries can happen because your kid is doing the same exercises and body movements for a prolonged period of time. And without proper recovery management, a player may return to the sport only to receive the same injury again.
This is common when there is high competition among players who may be forced to resume injury too early and in the end, your kid could be out of sports for a whole year.
3) Mental and physical burnout
Mental and physical burnout is when your kid becomes fatigued or tired and bored of playing the same sport. Sports should be fun, especially for kids under 10, and if they feel forced to play then they stop playing at all.
The following are symptoms of burnout: fatigue, poor performance, no motivation, failure to follow instructions, and even losing interest in the sport.
Due to playing the same sport all year round, kids also have a limited circle of friends which can have a negative social impact and stress on their lives.
Managing sports specialization
There are unique situations where sports specialization is necessary or parents may choose to.
The most common sense thing to do is to manage and minimize the negative impacts as described previously.
1) Manage fatigue
One way to manage the effects of sports specialization is to reduce fatigue as much as possible.
This can be achieved by providing enough rest between training and balancing mental and physical training.
You as a parent and the coach must always be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of fatigue by talking and listening to your kid and listening to their feedback.
Never forget to include a lot of fun during the training of young kids because that is the only way they will become engaged.
2) Encourage other hobbies
Allowing time away from the sport gives your kid plenty of time to rest and pursue hobbies, recover from sports-related stress, and just be kids.
3) 3 months of time off
Some experts recommended that kids playing a single sport should take at least 3 months off and 1 day off the sport every week of the year.
4) Seek professional advice
It is recommended that parents and athletes get professional advice from a certified trainer to assist in managing the effects of sports specialization.
What I think about sports specialization
To focus on one sport does not necessarily mean that your kid will become a professional player one day.
Although this may increase the chances of becoming a pro there are many factors in life that will change your expectations. So please put that at the back of your mind.
Perhaps the serious one is single sport will provide an imbalance of cognitive skills development in young kids because it only allows certain body movements.
Studies indicated that sports specialization may result in negative outcomes for your kid so it is important to balance your kids’ activities.
Encourage other hobbies that will stir his or her creativity and imagination.
What is playing multi-sports?
On the other hand, playing multi-sport is when you allow your kid to play more than one sport in a year, typically, one sport per season all year round.
A lot of studies supported that kids should be encouraged to play more than one sport because of the many benefits it provides to their kids.
The following is the definition from Wikipedia:
“A multi-sport athlete is an athlete who competes or trains two or more different sports. Most of these athletes played two or more sports from a young age – especially in high school – before deciding to usually concentrate on just one sport professionally”.
Benefits of playing multi-sport
1) Develop multiple skills
First of all, playing multiple sports will help your kid develop multiple skills that may complement other sports making your kid an all-around sports athlete.
For example, a kid whole plays basketball will develop ball-handling skills that can be very useful for a soccer goalkeeper. Multi-sport athletes are generally stronger, skillful, agile, and faster.
Research shows that most pro athletes play more than one sport when they are kids and in high school. One example is Alex Morgan who played soccer, volleyball, basketball, and track.
2) Discovering other sports
Playing multiple sports gives your kid the opportunity to discover the sport that he or she is really passionate about. A kid might discover that his or her natural talent to play basketball or volleyball while a strong kid will prefer wrestling instead.
Besides soccer, I played a lot of other sports in primary and high school including basketball, volleyball, softball, and some track. Although I never become an elite athlete, I am still conscious of my fitness, and healthy eating habits, and best of all I met lifetime friends through the sport.
3) Manage physical and mental burnout
Furthermore, playing a variety of sports reduces the chances of physical and mental burnout because they change the repetition of training for one sport and meeting other kids, and socializing.
Changing sports gives your kid’s muscles, joints, and bones a rest while engaging in a different sport.
4) Develop motor skills
Multiple sports will develop overall motor skills in young kids because of the various coordination the sports provide. For example, baseball encourages eye-hand coordination while soccer develops eye-foot coordination.
Disadvantages of playing multi-sports
1) Very expensive
Some parents will find that playing multi-sports can be very expensive because they have to buy training gear, club membership, transport, and time for each sport.
2) Exposure to injuries
Playing multiple sports can still expose your kid to injuries that will affect your kid from playing his or her preferred sport.
For example, your kid might be injured when playing football which will stop him or her from playing soccer or vice versa.
3) Good at all sports but better at none
When playing multiple sports your kid may end up a good player but will not excel in any particular sport because your kid did not focus on training for one sport.
4) Need to be committed
Kids need to be mentally and physically tough to be able to transition from one sport to another because they need to adapt to new training, sports rules, coach, and new teammates.
Your kid needs to be 100% committed to the idea of playing multiple sports or may end up losing interest.
5) Sport overload
Some parents got this multiple sports concept wrong as I have seen kids playing 3 sports on a single day.
After soccer, they shuttle their kids to another venue to play basketball, and then baseball.
The kid is clearly exhausted but he is being pushed by his parents to play multiple sports in one day.
Managing multiple sports
1) One sport per season
Playing one sport per season is the recommended method if you decided your kid should be playing multiple sports. This allows your kid to focus on a particular sport per season to reduce burnout and fatigue.
2) Ask the kid’s preference
Talk to your kid to know if this is he or she is keen on playing multiple sports, or what sports they would like to play in.
3) Vary the types of sports
Include team, dual, and individual sports in your kid’s sports participation so they offer different mental and physical challenges.
4) Seek professional advice
Talk to a specialist trainer to help with planning your kid’s sports training.
How many sports should a kid play?
Deciding on how many sports your kid should play depends on a lot of factors as discussed above.
All kids are unique and there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation.
One thing that must not be ignored is the wish of your kid to either play single or multiple sports because he or she is the one that is going to be playing.
Talk to your kid, if he or she is passionate about one sport or would like to try other sports as well. Of course, you as a parent must consent to everything that involves your kid’s welfare and that includes sports participation.
One recommendation is that kids should play multisport until they are 16 years of age before they can choose to specialize in one sport.
Now that you are fully informed, I am confident that you can make the best decision for your kid.
Please let me know your thoughts by leaving your comments below.