There are countless benefits of being a multi-sport athlete, such as improving a player’s physical and mental skills, making new friends, teamwork, and being exposed to new experiences — all while having fun. We spoke with several local experts who talked about some of the important benefits of playing multiple sports.
Finding their Passion in the Mix
Lyndsey Heffern, camp and youth programming director at the Shaw Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Akron, says that being involved in multiple sports helps kids find their passion.
“Young athletes have the ability to try new things and explore/discover their passions, not getting tied down to one specific activity – whether that be a sport, academics or otherwise – [that] will allow for these young children to develop in more ways than one,” Heffern says.
“Many professional athletes were multi-sport athletes in their development,” she says.
“Sports played such a huge role in my life, as a multi-sport athlete myself (basketball and soccer in high school), the discipline, lessons, environments, challenges and socialization that I experienced in each sport differed greatly and taught me a lot of valuable information,” Heffern says. “It is my belief that there are more benefits to being a multi-sport athlete.”
She says the best age to gauge a child’s interest in athletics is ideally when that child initiates the desire to participate.
“One tip for parents that are guiding their kids in sports play, is to let their child bring their interests to you,” she says. “Expose them to multiple options, have them try (and fail) but ultimately let them choose. Children are more apt to follow through with something when they have ownership in it. Encourage them to try their best, practice, practice, practice and have fun. At a young age, that is what sports are all about. The socialization and physical activity are wonderful for development.”
“Playing multiple sports can help young athletes become more versatile, physically strong, and expose them to other athletes for increased socialization,” Heffern says.
Teamwork + Making New Friends = Flourishing Kids
“As far as some of the benefits of playing multiple sports, there’s a teamwork benefit. You learn what it means to be on a team, and you learn that every team you belong to has different positions and different roles, so you learn teamwork,” says Eric Stinehelfer, executive director at French Creek Family YMCA in Avon, a branch of YMCA of Greater Cleveland. “Playing multiple sports, you’ll work on different motor skills, conditioning, and learn about competition. You might be on a team that has a very successful season, so you learn about winning, but the next sport that you try, you might not win a game, so you learn how to humbly lose, what that’s like, and you strive to be better.
“You never know what sports your child may flourish at,” he adds. “I’ve played basketball all of my life. I’m 6-feet, 6-inches [tall]. I want my kids to be basketball players. My son, Caleb, who is 7, doesn’t really care too much for basketball. He’s playing because we wanted him to try different sports, but his passion right now at age 7 is soccer. He really loves the sport of soccer. As parents, we have to remember it’s not what we want; it’s what they enjoy doing, and he’s out being active in different sports, making different friends.”
Playing multiple sports also provides kids with different life experiences. By participating in multiple sports, kids can gain new and diverse circles of friends.
Stinehelfer says that there’s also a social aspect of playing different sports, and the sense of being part of something for more than just one season. Multiple sports allow kids to stay physically active year-round, keep them mentally sharp, and give them a chance to learn a new sport.
“There could be different ethnicities, different religions, and the first time that a child might see a player with disabilities, and the questions that come of that and the learning that comes of that helps our children become more diverse,” Stinehelfer says. “Kids will also benefit from different coaching and coaching styles.”
Kids who play single sports could have more overuse injuries and experience a greater emotional burnout.
“When you’re a multi-sport athlete, you get fewer what are called overuse injuries, because when you do the same thing over and over again without rest in between, what happens is you get these overuse injuries,” says Rhonda Rickelman, director of auxiliary programming at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills.
“Different roles are important, too,” she says. “You can be a star, but sometimes, it’s good not to be a star, and to be a good team player, or to understand what it means to be a bench player. It broadens your experience, socially and developmentally.”
Playing multiple sports broadens you as a person and as an athlete, especially at a young age.
According to a UCLA sports specialization study surveying 296 NCAA Division I male and female athletes (age 19 on average), 88 percent participated in two to three sports as children and 70 percent did not specialize in a single sport until after the age of 12.
“Unless you have a goal in mind that says, ‘I’m going to make it to Little League World Series, or when I’m 12, I’m going to play at Cooperstown,’ well, there’s a different thing there when you’re getting ready to play for something like that, but for most kids, they play to have fun, they play to learn about who they are, and how they fit into a team. That’s why they play,” Rickelman says.
Other benefits of playing multiple sports are some of the crossover skills, such as eye-hand coordination, balance, and endurance, she says.
“I think the ability to be a good teammate, and to communicate as a teammate and with your coach, those things carry over between sports. And I think those are very big skills that will help them grow to become a better athlete,” Rickelman says.
Dave Devey, director/owner at Falcon Camp, says that playing multiple sports allows kids to explore different things, so they can find out what they like or don’t like.
“The benefits of playing multiple sports at a young age are countless, frankly. It gives children an opportunity to try a variety of things to see what they like the most, because maybe you do like playing hockey, but have you ever played lacrosse?,” he says. “Have you ever played baseball? Have you ever played basketball? Let’s go try it. You might like that sport, too. If you stick with a single sport, you tend to not learn how to play other things.”
A small percentage of youth may want to start specializing in their early teens, but for most kids, playing multiple sports is key when it comes to traits like building confidence and developing leadership skills.
“As they get older, and they do grow, maybe they are more confident in one sport than another, and that is a sport where they spend more time, concentrate more and specialize in, to a larger degree,” Devey says. “But every sport has some different learning skills, mentally as well as physically.”
“Playing multiple sports can help young athletes grow, and they’re able to have fun participating,” Devey adds. “If you have fun playing a sport, why wouldn’t you want to play more than one? Why wouldn’t you want to play a couple of them? Each sport offers a little different thought process, a little bit different kind of enjoyment, and a little bit different way of looking at things. It’s just like, if you’re playing a video game, do you only play one video game, or do you play several? You don’t read the same books all the time; you find new books to read. I think that some of that is the same with sports. It’s just plain fun to play different kinds of sports in different ways.”