3 Benefits of Playing Multiple Youth Sports

Would you want your kid to throw away his/her million dollar arm? I would assume not. In Major League Baseball, we've have seen some of the best pitchers in the game fall victim of a serious arm injury, many needing Tommy John surgery. It begs the question--could their injuries link back to their years before the bright lights of the MLB, before the demanding double headers in college, and even before the grind of high school sports?

Injuries to star athletes could stem back to their years as a youth. Today, many coaches at the youth level want their athletes playing one sport all year round, believing that it helps these young athletes develop faster, grow stronger, and build chemistry quicker with their teammates. No doubt that these are all valid reasons for kids to zero in on one sport, but this early specialization could lead to a number of problems down the road, including serious injury.

The solution? Let kids early on in their sport careers play a different sport every season. Letting kids at the youth level play multiple sports as a youngster could benefit them down the road in their athletic careers.

Let's examine three reasons why it’s beneficial for kids at the youth level to play a variety of sports:  

1. Prevent Burnout

Google search “youth sport burnouts”; you'll see numerous articles that pop up about young kids who had promising sports careers but stopped playing because they were “burnt-out”. Maybe the most high profile example of an athlete becoming burnt out is Elena Delle Donne. Elena was the number one girls’ basketball recruit coming out of high school in 2008. Donne shocked the sports world when she stepped away from her full scholarship given to her by the University of Connecticut to play basketball. Her reasoning? She was burnt-out with the sport of basketball. From a young age of seven, Donne competed with 11-year-olds, woke up early every morning to practice, and played numerous games on weekends. By the age of 13, Donne was sick of basketball.

Today parents and coaches are pushing their kids early on in their athletic careers to pick one sport and stick with it. This could be a recipe for disaster--pushing kids to play only one sport may change their outlook on it from positive fun to negative stress. Having kids practice the same sport all year, four days a week, could lead them to look at their sport as work instead as a fun activity. Letting youths play a different sport each season will allow them the chance to change things up and swing a bat instead of kicking a ball. Keeping their attention sharp and their love for the game strong.  

2. Prevent Injury

Kids who play one sport year round are putting strain on the same joints and ligaments every time they step on the playing or practice field.  Without any real off season or other sport to focus on, kids who play one sport seem to be more susceptible to injury. Tommy John, a 25-year veteran on the MLB and the man whose famous due to “Tommy John Surgery”, had this to say about kids who only play baseball year round: “I think what these kids do in youth baseball can lead to Tommy John surgery. They pitch year-round, If you have your kid's best interests at heart, let them play another sport. Play baseball up until September. Then go play football, play soccer, play lacrosse, play basketball. Do something else and let your arm rest. And then start it up again in the spring."(Source 

Every sport demands kids to use different parts of their body, so if one is to play two or three sports a year this allows them to rest parts of their bodies each season and use others that may have been dormant the season before.

3. Better Performance

Some in the sports world believe that if you concentrate on one sport and only one sport that you will get better much quicker. This is true, but not at the youth level.

At the youth level it is vital for young athletes to develop their skills in a variety of sports. This will make them well-rounded athletically and strengthen them physically, so they will excel naturally at all sports they play.

Playing multiple sports will also sharpen an athlete mentally. For example, look at two common sports played during two different sport seasons, football and baseball. Football is a much more team-orientated game, all 11 guys on offense must work and gel as one for the team to score a touch down. So athletes, while playing football, develop better team working skills. The mental aspect of a baseball player is quite different. Baseball, even though it is a team game, can make the athletes who play it feel alone. Only one person can hit at a time, only one person can field a ball and throw it, and only one person can catch it to complete the defensive play. Baseball is a very individual game compared to football. Playing baseball will develop an athlete's mental toughness to make a play during a game all by themselves.

Playing two differently-styled mental games can create an advantage for an athlete on both playing fields, making them mentally prepared to be a good teammate and an individual when they have to be. Before influencing today's youth to specialize in one sport, rethink the pros and cons of specialization at a young age. Specialization is key to get to the next level but it is also vital that it is not forced upon youths at too early of an age. Playing different sports will make the younger generation more well-rounded athletes and people--on and off the field.  


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