Should you play multiple sports?
It is a common occurrence for a young athlete to start showing promise in one sport, and decide to go all-in.
They quit everything else and focus all their time and energy on this sport, with dreams of becoming a professional athlete.
Whether this is at the guidance of parents, coaches, or talent scouts etc, its easy to understand why athletes would go in this direction
- The misconception that doing more of the same sport is better for athletic development
- Parents wanting to give their kid the best chance of success in professional sport
- Coaches/scouts wanting to lock in a star athlete early
- Systemic limitations (low ages of induction into specialist development programs)
Why is it not optimal?
- Physical burnout from repetitive patterns of the same sporting movements/equipment/playing surfaces
- Mental burnout from the same plays/skills/environment
- Lack of skill differentiation
Playing multiple sports, especially during developmental years, appears to correlate with increased sports performance in the athlete’s chosen career.
To paraphrase an article by Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS here;
Only 7 out of 40 (18%) of the top professional athletes in the big 4 sports in the USA (basketball, football, ice hockey, and baseball) were single-sport athletes during their developmental years.
Or to look at it another way, 82% of them played multiple sports.
Taking into account potential confounding factors;
1. Kids who played multiple sports MAY have been children of wealthier parents that could afford to enrol them in several teams, these kids could potentially have had better nutrition, less stress, and other things that poorer kids didn't.
2. This article only references the top athletes in the USA, so while it paints a fairly convincing picture, obviously this leaves a big gap in terms of global applicability.
But even taking these into account we get a pretty convincing case for mixing it up as a kid. A few benefits of playing multiple sports - Develops a larger pool of motor qualities (overall athleticism) - Breaks up the monotony of single-sport training (keeps training and playing fun) - Challenges athletes to become a beginner again (white-belt mentality) - Breaks up repetitive motions (high causative factor in injury) - Increases athletes sociability and network (get them out of their small box)
But what about once you're not a kid anymore? Should you care about playing multiple sports as an adult?
Probably, but only if you actually want to.
Put it this way, if you are sticking to one sport religiously because you think you have to specialise in order to improve, you are probably not yet at the level where that is necessary.