A major problem that I encounter as a coach is parents specializing their kids too early in one sport. Dealing with young hockey athletes, sometimes I see parents put their kids in hockey organizations that focus on having young athletes play hockey several times a week year-round while putting them through EXTRA on and off-ice sessions. They fear that their kids will fall way behind in hockey and have no chance to play at an elite-level.
As parents, we have to stop being selfish. In most cases, this early specialization in sports harms the child’s development. They often become burnt-out from stress, they are de-motivated, and the sport becomes unenjoyable. This increases the chance of them quitting early in their sport. Also, according to research, roughly 50% of overuse injuries in youth athletes come from specializing in one sport.
There is a better alternative to develop our kids for the long-term. That is through participation in multiple sports and less structured play. Here are some benefits of multi-sport participation:
1. Better overall skills and ability – Research shows participation in multiple sports leads to better motor and athletic development, enhanced ability to transfer sports skill to other sports, increased motivation, experience, and confidence.
2. More creative players – Multi-sport participation leads to improved decision-making skills and pattern recognition. This creativity comes from the ability to view a sport from a different perspective due to having played other sports.
3. Free Play – Early specialization ignores free play. Free play provides enjoyment and maximizes fun which is key to long-term success. It allows for young athletes to be more engaged in sports than structured training.
There are numerous studies out there that support the idea of multi-sport participation and its benefits to a child’s overall development. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids. Let them play!