The Importance of Multi-Sport Participation for Athletic Development

By Ryan Darling, RMT, R.Kin, CSEP-CEP, B.Sc, M.Sc. Kinesiology (Owner/Operator, RD Athletics – Therapy & Training)

It isn't uncommon these days to see young athletes playing the same sport all year round, with all physical activity focused primarily on that single sport. There is an assumption that focus on a single sport will allow for significant athletic development and enhancement, setting the youth up for greater success in that sport down the road. While there is definitely the opportunity for skill acquisition and refinement, there are other important factors to consider. Introducing youth to a variety of sports is a great way to develop athletic ability and avoid potential down-falls of the single sport focus.

Interest and Skill Discovery: Allowing youth to try a variety of different sports is important in allowing them to figure out what they are best at, but more importantly what they truly enjoy. Although being good at something is great, it is far more important for an individual to enjoy the activity they are partaking in. This will assure they are motivated and committed to it in the long run which adds the element of longevity to their physical fitness.

Balanced Physical Health: Sport participation is a great form of physical activity which is an important component of an individuals overall health. But, sports all have different physical requirements, and playing only one sport can lead individuals to over-develop certain aspects of physical health while under-developing other important aspects. Participation in multiple sports assures that youth develop good overall balanced physical fitness.

Injury Prevention: Injuries in sport continue to be an issue and research has shown that injury rates tend to be higher in youth who participate in only one sport. Additionally, injury rates are increased when a sport is played year round with no off-season. As mentioned in the above point, individual sports don’t always support a well rounded and balanced development of all physical health characteristics like strength, flexibility, speed, agility etc. This is why participation in multiple sports can help individuals work on these different areas of physical fitness and develop further athletically than they would by playing only one sport. Training different qualities can be accomplished by multi-sport participation, and offer the benefits of developing different motor skills and aspects of fitness that the individual's primary sport may not.

So, what does this all mean? At it's simplest, if your child or teen has been playing hockey all winter, consider enrolling them in basketball camp or swimming lessons for the summer. Have they been cross-country running and participating in track and field? Maybe give soccer or ultimate frisbee a shot. Not only will their athletic development be enhanced, they might just really enjoy it!

Joanna Whitney