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Why Kids Should Play Multiple Sports

Contrary to what most adults assume, there is surprising evidence that playing multiple sports is more effective in developing successful athletes than single-sport specialization. 

One need look no further than former U.S. soccer superstar Abby Wambach who credits her participation in high school basketball with giving her the fundamentals and timing to score so many goals with her head.  Wambach points to rebounding as having the biggest effect on her heading prowess, saying learning the timing of your jump and learning the trajectory of the ball coming off the rim in basketball played an enormouw role in her ability to put balls in the goal using her head while on the soccer field.

But the pressure to specialize in just one sport and play it year-round is intense.  Gone are the days when most kids played one sport a season and switched it up as the weather changed.  Experts agree that single sport specialization has resulted in a higher incidence of overuse injuries in increasingly younger kids. 

Data suggests that specialization in a single sport is actually doing more harm than good to the long-term success of team sports.  Young athletes who participate in multiple sports have skills and pattern recognition that transfer between sports, ultimately making them better all-around athletes.

How do you combat a youth sports culture that pressures young athletes to play one sport year-round?

Although it’s easy to feel a need to keep up with the Joneses, stick to your guns and make sure your young athlete:

  • Is Exposed to multiple sports.  For an athlete to be successful, he or she must love to play.  Exposing kids to a variety of sports improves the likelihood of them discovering their passion for a particular sport (or sports), which is essential for long-term success.
  • Avoids playing a single sport competitively year-round.  The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend not specializing in a sport until age 10.
  • Focuses on skill development rather than just structured competition.  Developing fundamental skills early on increases success and ultimately an athlete’s love for sports.
  • Limits his/her training.  It’s important that young athletes don’t overdo it.  For high school athletes, training more than 16 hours per week has been associated with an increased risk of injury, so healthy limits are essential.
  • Keeps the joy in sports. Constant pressure from parents and coaches to play harder, train harder, and do more can sap the joy out of playing and lead to burnout.  Most young athletes will never make the pros, so keep your expectations (and theirs) in check.
  • Makes proper rest an important part of his/her training. Experts recommend a minimum of one day of rest per week from organized training and competition.  When asked by kids what they could do to improve their game, many professional athletes had the same answer:  get more sleep.
How to Be Your Child’s Biggest (and Best) Sports Fan

You might be your child’s biggest fan, but are you his/her best fan?  Chances are, your perspective on this is a little less than objective.  When hundreds of college athletes were asked what’s your worst memory from youth sports, the overwhelming reply was “the ride home with my parents.”  Many parents see the post-game car ride as an opportunity to offer criticism, tips, and second guess the various decisions their player made throughout the game, but this is a clear recipe for disaster.  Here are some tips for becoming your child’s #1 fan:

Don’t be the coach (unless you are actually the coach): Post-game criticism and well-meaning suggestions on the ride home can be tedious win or lose, particularly if the coach already de-briefed the team on what they did well and not so well.  Athletes overwhelmingly agree that the single best thing you can say to them after a game is “I love to watch you play.”  Your job is to provide unconditional support.  Grandparents seem to have a particularly easy time handing out genuine atta-boys, so take your cues from Grandpa.

Encourage your child to compete against him/herself rather than teammates or opponents:  Judging improvement by winning or losing isn’t fair or accurate.  Young athletes should be striving for continual improvement—swimming faster, making better passes, and correcting mistakes from week to week, not necessarily coming in first place or winning the game.  

Don’t Define Success in Terms of Winning:  Youth sports are all about skill development.  The scoreboard doesn’t necessarily reflect a victory or loss in these terms.  When your child and/or his team plays up to their potential and loses, it’s critical to focus on the performance, not the loss.  There is a difference between winning/losing and success/failure.  Make sure both you and your child understand the distinction.

Let Go:  Sports is one of the few environments where parents can be hands off.  The playing field is a great place for kids to take risks, try something new, and deal with the resulting failure or success because consequences aren’t life threatening nor are they permanent.  Good or bad, the outcome won’t require a rescue from mom or dad.  By letting go, parents allow all of the successes or failures to be their child’s alone.

Keep your emotions in check at game time:  Making grand demonstrations of displeasure over a referee’s “bad” call or when things aren’t going your team’s way is bad sportsmanship and sends the wrong message to your child. Be encouraging and positive.

Ask your child what he or she wants:  Some kids like to hear encouraging shouts from stands, but others would rather not to hear mom or dad at all.  Find out what your child prefers and honor his/her wishes as best you can.

Don’t treat your child differently after a win or a loss:  Their value is not contingent on the final outcome of the game.   Be careful that your behavior doesn’t tell a different story.

Youth Sports: Choosing the Right Sport for Your Child

Getting your child involved in youth sports can be exciting and a little bit stressful. We are eager to see them active and enjoying their time on the playing field, but we worry. Will they enjoy it? How will they perform? Is this the right sport for my child? Despite what many of us might think, kids don’t come from the womb knowing they want to be a football MVP or track star, or even knowing what sports they want to play. As parents, it’s our job to expose them to and encourage them to play a variety of sports without pushing our own agendas or creating undue pressure to choose one sport over another.

It’s a balancing act and a lot easier said than done, particularly for those of us who played sports at a higher level. Even fond memories from our own youth sports experiences can be enough to torque up the enthusiasm a little too high. After all, we just want our children to enjoy the same success and sense of comradery that we did, and maybe (just maybe) we’ll get to relive some of those glory days along the way.

Here’s the best way to help your youngster find his/her sport:

Get Moving Early

It’s always good to get your child moving early, starting with easy activities that aren’t difficult to master like throwing and catching, kicking a ball or swinging a bat. Once your child reaches age 6 or 7, they are physically and mentally ready to begin participating in organized sports. Studies have shown that participating in youth sports helps kids to maintain a healthier lifestyle and has social benefits as well.

Find the Right Fit

Here’s the best way to help your youngster find his/her sport:

  • If they haven’t expressed an interest in a particular sport, talk to them about the various options in your area. Sometimes having a buddy playing the same sport is all the encouragement it takes.
  • Begin their exposure with less competitive sports. Try to find a youth sports program that allows kids to rotate through several different sports, giving them the opportunity to learn the rules and try out the equipment before having to commit for an entire season. If you live in the Crofton, Maryland area, Athletic Performance, Inc. (API) offers their All Sport Kids Academy to children ages 3-8. They play soccer, tennis, baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball and more with age appropriate rules and instruction. They work on motor skills and coordination with an emphasis on fun and sportsmanship. There’s greater focus on sport-specific skills as the kids get older.
  • Talk to your child and find out what he likes. Observe his strengths and weaknesses with any physical activity. Does he have good hand-eye coordination? Is he competitive and driven to succeed or happier cheering from the sidelines? Is he happier doing things on his own rather than in a team environment?
  • If the team environment isn’t a good fit, try some individual sports like tennis or swimming. If ball sports aren’t your child’s cup of tea, perhaps martial arts or dance will be. Whatever your child’s personality, there are lots of sports option. Children are usually drawn to sports they feel they are good at.
  • Be sure to choose the appropriate level of competition or frustration can set in. Competing against older, more experienced athletes can make anyone want to throw in the towel. By the same token, if your child shows a natural ability for a sport, a lack of competition at the recreational level may quickly become tiresome.
  • Whatever your child’s ability level, be supportive of their accomplishments regardless of how big or small. Children pick up on even the smallest cues.
  • Be patient. There are plenty of professional athletes who admit to being pretty bad at their chosen sport in the early years. Becoming good at anything takes time.

Know When to Step Back

If you get repeated push back from your child – refusal to participate, disinterest, expressed dislike for practice or games—dig a little deeper. Sometimes there are other issues at play. As a parent, you’ll need to encourage your child to keep playing or decide if and when it’s best to move on to something else. And it can be a fine line between supporting them and forcing them to do something they don’t enjoy.

Taking the time and patience to help your child find the sport or sports that are a good fit for his skills and personality can take a little time. Let your child be the guiding force. In the end, you’ll both be happier for it.

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