"Think about it like this…you may love chocolate cake, but if you eat it every single day, eventually, you’re going to get tired of it."
For those who don’t know, my educational background is in K-12 Physical Education and Health and I am currently in my second year of working on a Kinesiology and Health Studies master’s degree with an emphasis in Sport Psychology. Does this mean I know everything when it comes to sport? Absolutely not. However, I do believe I have a fairly strong background and know a decent amount of reliable information on the topic having done quite a bit of research in the area over the years. This is what I know…
There is such a thing as burnout which basically means that athletes get tired, both physically and mentally, of their sport to where it feels less like a game and more like a chore. There is a ton of research on this topic and it pretty much all says the same thing: early sport specialization leads to athlete burn out. So, athletes who devote all their time and energy to one sport often get tired of the sport and end up quitting. Essentially, this is what happens…
- Athlete finds a sport they like (Yay!)
- Athlete is good at their sport
- Parent and athlete want to excel in this sport so they play year round, take lessons, go to camps, etc. so they can be a top player
- Parent and athlete want the ‘big dream’ which is college and/or pro athlete
- Athlete devotes all of their time and energy to the sport
- Athlete starts to hate the sport because it consumes their life
- Athlete quits the sport (Boo!)
So it’s kind of an ironic situation. But it’s a situation that can likely be avoided by doing one thing: cross training. Cross training is when athletes train in other areas outside of their sport and it is beneficial for a ton of reasons. Here are a few:
- Reduces boredom in athletics
- Conditions different muscle groups
- Reduces the risk of injury
- Develops other athletic skill sets
- Produces over-all higher level of conditioning
- Allows the frequently used muscles of their concentration sport to recover
- Increases skill, balance, and agility
- Multi-sport athletes are shown to be smarter, more creative players
- Most college athletes were multi-sport athletes growing up
- Increased levels of athletic enjoyment
Research has shown that athletes who engage in multiple sports are more athletically developed, have longer playing careers, and show increased motivation and confidence. Additionally, single-sport athletes are 70% to 93% more likely to sustain injuries than multi-sport athletes and single-sport athletes account for 50% of overuse injuries. Also, single-sport athletes are more likely to be physically inactive in adulthood (most likely due to burn out and the stress they associate with athletics).
This is only a tiny percentage of the information supporting athletes to be multi-sport athletes. The research is there. It is a highly studied area in the sport science field and something that, I believe, parents of athletes should take into consideration.
So, yes, I am an advocate for athletes to cross train and play multiple sports. I played three sports growing up. I spent my falls playing volleyball, my winters playing basketball, and my springs and summers playing softball. I still spent more time playing softball because it was my concentration sport, but I also spent a large portion of my year developing other athletic skills and taking a mental break from softball. Honestly, if I had only played softball year-round, I probably would have given it up. I don’t think I would have gone on to play in college. I loved softball but at the end of each summer, after I had played from February to July, I was kind of over it. I needed that break. And I loved softball more than anyone I knew, but it didn’t change the fact that it’s mentally and physically exhausting to do the same thing over and over again every single day for six months. Sometimes athletes need to be reminded how much they love their sport, and they can only do that by taking a step back and be given the chance to miss it.
Your child doesn’t have to dedicate their life to a single sport to be successful. Yes, they have to work hard and put in a lot of time, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing they do. Encourage your athlete to get involved in other sports. Anything…basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, swimming, cycling, field hockey, tennis, soccer, hockey, dance, gymnastics…whatever interests them. It will make them an all-around better athlete and will give them the chance to miss the sport that they love so much. Think about it like this…you may love chocolate cake, but if you eat it every single day, eventually, you’re going to get tired of it. Like anything else in life, moderation is key.