Multi-sport vs. single sport athletes….which is the best approach???

I have a class reunion coming up this summer and a lot of my Facebook friends are classmates and some of them have been putting up photos from our school’s “Wall of Fame”. I look back at those pictures and we had some pretty good athletes in our class…ones that made at least all league in two and in some cases three sports. And aside from the fashions back in the day (thank goodness the ‘short shorts’ fad, with the notable exception of John Stockton, didn’t last) and the size of the athletes, the biggest difference between then and now is the multi-sport athlete is disappearing in favor of the specialized, one sport athlete.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons…one is because an athlete nowadays can practice with a team or take part in games/matches with a team or as an individual in any sport at any time. The other is the increase of indoor facilities for bad-weather climates like ours. And still another is the advent of club/travel/select teams that raise their own money and travel where the weather is nice.

I can see the benefits of youths participating in more than one sport. Playing in several sports allows the young athlete to see which one they like best and also mix with several groups of kids and parents and coaches. In some cases it prompts athletes to not drag bad performances with them, to “turn the page” if you will. The frustrations of one sports are quickly forgotten because a different sport is right around the corner.

However, focusing on one sport usually gives them more time for schoolwork, family and friends. It also cuts down on the cost of equipment as outfitting an athlete in one sport is cheaper in most cases than two, or three. And, if they are an elite athlete, the additional repetitions and more practice/games will make them a stronger player in the long run.

Sure, there’s minuses to both approaches. For older multi-sport athletes an injury could not only mean the end of one season, but the next one as well and for the single-sport athlete there’s a higher risk for burnout. So..let’s see here…pluses of several sports…check…pluses of one sport…check…minuses to both…check….dramatic ending where I give my opinion and tie everything together….ummm….well…I know….if all else fails, go with an analogy.

So here goes….sports to me have always been like the sampler appetizer plate. Try the pot stickers and the celery sticks….you might like those just as well as the chips and spinach dip. Or you might really like the mozzerella cheese sticks and just want to stick with those. So I guess the right approach would be to encourage your child if they show an interest in sports to try several of them. They might eventually settle on one sport that they like and be happy. Or, they might just like two or three, or all of them. But, again, the key here is the “see which one they really like” part, because the way I see it from the cheap seats, they are the ones we need to worry about here.


Paul Williams

I am a sports nut who has tried to make the transition from athlete to athletic....err....supporter of my two children and their athletic endeavours. I am also a former sports reporter for The Arlington Times, Marysville Globe, The Skagit Argus and The Coeur d'Alene Press. Follow me on Facebook or on Twitter (@PDub4170).

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