Making multi-sport a reality requires us to move from words to action

A recent campaign that involved some of the most influential sport organizations in Canada spelled out the scientific facts about why young children should play many sports. The message is very clear:

When kids specialize early in one sport they miss out on important skills and many get injured, burnout, or quit. That’s why top athletes and sports experts say the same thing: LET KIDS PLAY AS MANY SPORTS AS POSSIBLE.

Yet many are still debating the topic wondering whether the problem lies with the sport clubs or the parents. Are sports pushing kids to specialize before they are ready? Or are parents too eager to develop their kids into world-class athletes?

Maybe it’s time to stop debating who is the culprit. Given that kids are dropping out of sport and activity programs, maybe we need to start focusing on solutions. Maybe it’s time that all the stakeholders – including parents, minor sport organizations, and governing bodies – start working together to create programs and schedules to allow young kids to participate in more than one sport or activity through the year.

To make multi-sport the new normal, we must go from words to action. Here are some concrete actions, at all levels of the sport system, that can be taken.

1. Let’s set a goal to offer multi-sport programs for kids 8 and under

It is unlikely that the sport system will change unless all the stakeholders get on the same page. There is a time when kids who want to reach an elite level in one sport must begin to specialize in their chosen sport. And that age is when they reach puberty. Knowing this fact, it should be everyone’s goal to increase the offer of multi-sport programs (also known as sport sampling) for kids 8 and under.

2. Parents

As a parent, there are many concrete actions you can take to help the system do what is best for young kids. To start, you can educate yourself by reading articles or watching videos. You will gain knowledge and the ability to explain to other parents and stakeholders, such as your kid’s coaches, why multi-sport is better for young kids.

When you feel confident, you can ask your child’s coach, the club’s manager, or your minor sport organization what they are doing to help kids (especially at younger ages) to develop physical literacy.

Finally, you can use resources like these one to spread the word about the benefits of multi-sport. You will be surprised to realize that a majority of parents agree with you.

3. Minor sport organizations

First, let’s all come to a common realization: the real enemy is inactivity and gaming, not other sports or activities. Poaching kids from another sport or scheduling activities that force young kids to choose one sport too early in life will only make them sick of your sport.

Second, talk to each other. It’s time for community sport associations to set up meetings with each other to discuss ways to support your athletes in pursuing multi-sport. For example, you can be working together to harmonize schedules and educate coaches and parents on the importance of multi-sport. Parents who want their kids to be active will thank you.

Even better, collaborate with other sports and offer multi-sport programs like this one for kids aged 6 to 8. You will soon realize that these programs will expose more kids to your specific sport. As well, parents – the ultimate client who pay for your programs – will thank you profusely for easing the logistical challenges that come from registering their kids in different activities.

4. Provincial and national sport organizations

Provincial sport organizations (PSOs) can take a bold public stance by delivering a highly creative and entertaining campaign like Sport Nova Scotia did.

You can also meet with presidents and coaching directors of the community member associations and ask them to make position statements supporting multi-sport for their younger participants. Then you can discuss strategies with them for promoting multi-sport for their athletes – such as opening dialogues with community sport organizations in other sports, educating coaches, and where possible, harmonizing schedules.

National sport organizations (NSOs) can collaborate with others sports like Baseball Canada, Canada Basketball, Canada Soccer, and Hockey Canada did. The collective made a make a very public (and engaging) statement supporting multi-sport for young participants.

NSOs can also meet with presidents and coaching directors of their respective PSOs and ask them to make similar position statements, and then work on strategies to promote multi-sport among their member community associations.

From mass participation to the elite, multi-sport is better for ALL kids

In his article, published in the Globe and Mail, Dr. Dwight Chapin points out how multi-sport is better for all of our kids: “Research shows that kids who play multiple sports have fewer injuries, and continue to play longer and at a higher level than children who specialize in a sport before puberty.”

Want to develop world-class athletes? The recipe is simple: allow them to practice many sports early in their career, let them choose the one they love, and then help them specialize at the right time.

Bonus, the kids who do not choose to become elite athletes will most likely live a more positive sport experience and choose to remain active for life simply because they love moving and playing.

Sounds like a win-win for all involved.

4 responses to “Making multi-sport a reality requires us to move from words to action

  1. These kids need the sports not only for their physical and mental improvement but also for social and sportsmanship spirit. The best way to motivate them to get involved is to require more time at school as their formal subject/activity.

  2. The other huge problem is getting more than one kid to their sports when they are in different directions at the same time.
    Forget the fees and that most minor sports are priced out of the budget for working parents

  3. The issue is, rep and select teams start at a young age. Kids who really want to learn the sport have to go in at a young age, as house league in sport other than hockey really does not offer any coaching. Even though clubs call for tryouts on an annual basis, it is to the teams best interest to keep its core, so to crack the team later than the first year you really have to be great. How do you do that by staying in house league where you won’t learn sufficient skills and have sufficient touches, never mind knowing positioning?
    Until the house league systems start to get better, the good players have no place to go other than specialize at a young age.

    1. You make a good point C.
      It comes down to young children learning the fundamental skills of any sport or activity properly. And the rep or “elite” setting is not the best place to do so when kids are young. That is why many experts say that dividing kids into elite and house teams too young only favours the “early developers”. And that it is very difficult for kids who develop later to catch-up. One solution is to offer multi-sport programs for kids 8 and under. Programs where you register your kid in one program and they receive quality coaching and development in more than one sport. Because such programs are focused on development rather than selection, all the kids involved develop good fundamental, both early and late developers.

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