What ever happened to the days of the three-sport youth athlete? Older generations can remember a time when a young athlete would take part in a number of different sports. For instance, a young boy in 1985 would play Football in the fall, Basketball in the winter, and Baseball in the spring/summer. However, now-a-days we see the trend changing completely to young athletes competing in a preferred sport all year round. The question is simple: does focusing solely on one sport give a young athlete a better chance to succeed and play at the highest levels? The logic makes perfect sense, if a young girl wants to be one of the best lacrosse players in the country she should play as much lacrosse as she can. Summer camps and physical training in the summer months, "fall ball" leagues in autumn, indoor leagues and more physical training in the winter, and she will be at her absolute best during her regular season in the spring, right? But there are fatal flaws in this logic that parents must recognize, no matter how much they want their child to succeed in his or her "favorite" sport.
What about the risk of burning the athlete out? Playing that much of the same sport puts the young athlete at risk to using the same muscle groups too much and for too long, which will slow and drop his or her performance. Young bodies are not meant to be put through the repetitive nature of one sport like professionals are, and even professional athletes take months off after their seasons are completed. Playing that much of one sport will also take a serious mental tole on a young athlete and the over-saturation puts him or her at risk of losing that passion for the game and fire to compete. Playing other sports enables and allows young athletes to activate and develop different muscle groups that they don't normally use in their preferred sport. This leads to better overall maturity and strength as an athlete. If the young hockey player just played a little baseball as a boy, maybe he would have knocked that puck out of mid-air for the goal to win the championship!
A perfect example of a great athlete to model children's progressions after is Chris Drury. The former NHL'er excelled in a number of different sports as a young man growing up in Connecticut. In addition to being a talented and promising hockey player as a boy, Drury played just as much baseball as he did hockey. He even led his town of Trumbull, Connecticut to the 1989 Little League World Series Championship by pitching a complete game 5 hitter (pictured above, left) with 2 RBIs at the plate. Though he always loved hockey more than anything, Drury made sure to play baseball and other sports to build more relationships and to stay mentally and physically fresh at a young age. It definitely worked out for Drury, who went on to play 12 NHL seasons compiling 255 career goals and 615 career points to go along with his 3 Olympic appearances for Team USA, the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year in 1999, and a Stanley Cup Championship in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche (pictured above, right). Drury's story just goes to show the potential advantage of young athletes being involved in more than just one sport.
At the end of the day the onus rides on the parents. If your son or daughter loves basketball more than anything and wants to play all summer then it will be hard to tell him or her to put basketball on hold for a while. But the responsible thing and the best thing for the athlete's development would be getting him or her on the baseball, football, soccer, or lacrosse field. It may be hard, but we as parents must understand and explain that no matter how bad we want them to succeed at their specific sport, playing that same sport all year round will actually limit their progression and put them at the risk of burning themselves out.