I feel extremely fortunate that growing up in small town, rural middle of America, that I was exposed to so many great sports. From the time I could walk, maybe even before, I always had a ball in my hand. T-Ball in the church yard, basketball camps on the local outdoor courts, swimming lessons, softball leagues. This was the foundation for a journey of life-long enjoyment in playing and participating in competitive and recreational sports and activities. Having this experience helped me develop great friendships with people I am still close with today, it allowed me to learn about leadership, teamwork, discipline and build self-confidence.
While I did play many traditional sports growing up in middle school and high school such as volleyball, basketball and softball, I do enjoy playing other sports as well. As an adult, I learned the joy of hiking, snowboarding, kayaking, indoor rock climbing, triathlon and golf. Some of the great benefits that I feel by doing such a variety of sports is that my body is moving in such different ways. I pull, I push, I move in all three planes of motion, my mind is challenged, I am exposed to different problem solving skills, I work my muscles and lungs differently. I have stayed relatively injury free both in the joints and muscles. There is a sense of more clarity in the mind as I have to think strategically about the task at hand. And my social circle has also expanded because of this.
In the last several years, more and more kids are beginning to specialize in sport at a much earlier age. Much of this has to with the rising cost of college and parents trying to find a way to pay for school. Another reason is to maximize their chance to make it to the big leagues.
"Early specialization may enhance a skill but it does not enhance athleticism like practicing multiple sports can.” - Richard Ginsberg
Unfortunately when kids begin to specialize at such an early age, there are many physical and mental risks. Below are a few reasons that kids should be encouraged to be multi-sport athletes as long as possible:
Exposing Kids to Other Social Networks- Learning to interact with kids in different sports will allow them to create and share experiences with a diverse group of peers.
Limiting the Risk of Overuse Injuries- When the body experiences the repetitive movements over and over again, stress on the joints and muscles increases. By playing multiple sports, it allows the body to recover faster, improved motor and skill development and control, muscle strength and joint stability.
Decrease Emotional Burnout- Specializing too early will lead to burnout. Expectations, travel, costs; it all adds up, not to mention the boredom factor. Often times if a kid receives a college scholarship but have only specialized in one sport and suddenly become exposed to other activities, they quit that team and everyone is at a loss.
Taking on a Variety of Roles- While many kids are extremely talented at one sport, they may find themselves less talented in others. Learning to take of roles from floor/field captain to bench spirit leader creates a deeper, well-rounded athlete. Each role is just as important and holds as much value.
While much attention is focused on kids specializing on sport too early, I think many of the same principles should be applied to adults as well. We tend to fall into the rut of doing the same thing over and over again. I encourage you to explore other activities and environments. Find a local group where you can meet new people, try new things. Go for a hike. Maybe paddle boarding or kayaking. Get back on your bike. Play a round of golf. Whatever it is, see how differently you feel once you are done, both physically and mentally. Chances are if you tried it and had a good time, you’ll return. If not, you learned something about yourself.