When kids specialize too early in one sport or activity, they miss out on important skills. They also tend to get injured more frequently, burnout, and quit. This is why coaching and medical experts are saying that we should let our kids play as many sports as possible in their preteen years.
As a community coach, there are things you can do to support preteen kids in taking this multi-sport approach. It’s challenging to run practices or play games if some of your athletes are absent with other commitments, but it’s important that they have these opportunities for their all-round development. Here are five tips to make it work for both them and you.
1. Know that there is a right age to specialize in the sport you coach
When promoting multi-sport, keep the Long Term Athlete Development model or LTAD in mind. The LTAD is recognized and applied as a gold standard around the world to ensure that kids do the right thing at the right stage of their development in sport.
LTAD is clear that it’s better for young kids to sample many sports. Yes, there comes a time when kids who aspire to be elite athletes must begin to specialize in one sport if they want to excel, but that time is usually in early adolescence depending on the sport and the athlete’s gender.
Unless you coach in one of the few sports designated for early specialization such as gymnastics or figure skating, it is best that preteen kids continue to sample different sports and avoid premature specialization.
2. Remember that the real enemy is inactivity, not playing multiple sports
At a time when kids are not as active as they should be and are dropping out of organized sports, the goal is not to restrict kids exclusively to your sport. The challenge is to get them to live as many positive sporting experiences as possible.
As a coach who is passionate about your sport, you might think it’s better for a 10-year-old to commit to your sport year-round. But from the child’s perspective, it’s not good for skill development, and the science shows that it could easily lead to overuse injuries, burnout, and drop out. Remember that most elite athletes were multi-sport athletes in childhood who kept the love of their sport alive by not overdoing it too early.
3. Support your kids who want to be “multi-sport”
Recognize the fact that it’s better when your kids are multi-sport athletes. They develop into better athletes, and that’s better for everyone concerned, including you. Your only concerns should be whether or not your athletes are potentially over-training during the season, and whether or not they are fulfilling their commitment to teammates in instances where you coach a team sport.
4. Talk with your sport association about supporting multi-sport
Sometimes the biggest challenges to supporting kids in pursuing multi-sport come from your own sports association. For example, has your association scheduled tryouts for days or weeks when kids have known commitments to other major sporting events or activities, or during school exams and field trips? Advocate for your athletes by talking with your association about scheduling tryouts and other activities at more appropriate times.
5. Share information with others about the importance of multi-sport
Finally, you help to create a community groundswell in support of kids’ multi-sport by sharing good information about multi-sport with other coaches, instructors, parents, and association leadership. The Play More Sports website and Active for Life’s curated list of multi-sport articles are great links to share.
Do you have other ideas for supporting multi-sport as a coach? What have you experienced when you try to promote multi-sport for kids? We welcome your comments and insights below.