Yes, we know. Multi-sport is a desirable concept, just not a reality… yet

AfL joined a consortium of four Canadian national sport organizations and the Canadian Olympic committee and launched a video and microsite that promote the fact that it is better for kids to be involved in many sports.

Since the launch many people have shared experiences and comments on social media that can be summed up as follows:

“Yes, multi-sport is a great concept, but in reality multi-sport is not feasible. I would love my [daughter or son] to be able to play more than one sport but his/her [coach or team] has scheduled 4 practices a week and 2 games.”

Basically, some parents are telling us that promoting multi-sport for kids is noble, but it remains unfeasible where they live. They share that many minor sport organizations make multi-sport participation very difficult because of the way they program sport for kids at the community level.

And you know what? They are right. In many places it is impossible for kids to practice more than one sport because of the way sport is set up.

So why is AfL joining in the promotion of multi-sport? Two reasons:

1) Multi-sport is better for YOUNGER kids.

The evidence has been mounting for years that multi-sport participation is better for younger kids. But here we need to clarify one important fact about multi-sport: It’s in the early years of sport participation that multi-sport is better.

Here are a few key facts everyone should know about multi-sport:

When promoting multi-sport we refer to the Long Term Athlete Development model or LTAD. 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.

The LTAD model is divided into different pathways. It recognizes that some kids want to become elite athletes in one sport, while others simply enjoy participating and being active in lots of different sports.

And LTAD is clear: It’s better for young kids to sample many sports, but there comes a time – usually between the ages of 11 or 13 depending on the sport and gender – when kids who aspire to be elite athletes must begin to specialize in one sport if they want to excel.

What this means is that if your 7-year-old son plays only one sport, he is at a greater risk of repetitive stress injury and burn-out, and he might not perform at the highest level if he chooses to become an elite athlete in one sport. This also means that if your daughter is 12 and she wants to become an elite hockey player, she must prioritize her sport of choice over other sports.

To complicate things, the late specialization approach applies to a majority of sports, but not all. In gymnastics and figure skating, for example, kids do need to specialize early in order to be able to compete at an elite level later.

2) The sport system is disjointed. To create change, we have to talk about multi-sport at the grassroots level, not only at the top.

Improving the sport system in our country is not an easy task. There’s a belief that our national sport organizations have complete control over how minor sport is delivered to kids. But that’s not always the case. The sport structure in Canada is wide-ranging if not convoluted.

With many sports, it’s the minor sport associations, the leagues, the coaches, and the parents who organize and deliver the sports programs. These people at the grassroots are the true gatekeepers of youth sport. In the end, they decide how much time kids spend playing one sport or another.

If your 8-year-old daughter plays for a coach that believes it is a good thing to schedule five practices a week, and your minor soccer association allows it, and the league your daughter plays in schedules three games a week, then multi-sport participation is simply not possible for your daughter. Even if Soccer Canada supports multi-sport.

In reality, not much will change until minor sport associations and leagues that organize youth sports, together with the coaches who deliver the programs and the parents who make the final decision by paying for the programs, work together to make multi-sport a reality. Changes need to happen from the grassroots up to support the changes coming from the top down.

And this is why AfL promotes multi-sport: we want parents, coaches, minor sport associations, and leagues to join the conversation. To debate and discuss what is truly best for kids.

Can you imagine a new normal?

People in sport who believe in multi-sport often refer to the need to create a “new normal”. The new normal is a situation in which the gatekeepers of sport both at the top and the grassroots understand that kids who practice many different sports and activities at a younger age are set up for success later. And that sport is organized around that notion.

In the “new normal” sports are not competing against each other to attract 8-year-old kids, but working together to create schedules to allow kids to participate in more than one sport. Some organizations actually go one step further and offer integrated multi-sport programs to young kids. As a parent, would you like to see more programs where a $300 registration lets a child play 12 sports over 10 months in one community?

As well, in the new normal, there are more and better elite athletes. There are more elite athletes because the kids that are motivated stay in sports instead of dropping out because they are burnt-out or riddled with injuries. And because of their multi-sport background in childhood, they are more complete athletes after they start to specialize in one sport in their early teens that achieve a higher degree of performance when it really counts.

What do you think? It’s a pretty attractive new normal for parents who like sports and believe in giving kids the best opportunities.

5 responses to “Yes, we know. Multi-sport is a desirable concept, just not a reality… yet

  1. Hi, in the GTA, especially the GTHL area, it is very difficult to get fair ice time for recreational hockey players. Typically the ice allocated for commuunity youth which is the most subsidized ice gets diverted to non-recreational teams (travel teams such as those that play in NYHL which is under the guise of community hockey but really isn’t). Can AFL help deal with these gatekeeper organizations? I’ve tried with multiple clubs but then I get ostracized and my kids have to change clubs for me to continue coaching recreational hockey.

    1. Hi HP. I am not sure what AFL could do to help with gatekeeper organizations. We don’t really have any authority other than to share what we believe are wise practices that could lead to change. This being said, let me reach out to some organizations we and see what they say.

      1. hi HP. I reached to some people at the provincial levels and here’s what have been told:
        “Like you, we don’t have any authority over the GTHL or the NYHL as they are a separate organization from us but I believe your message is the right one. The message to get involved, be part of the change and make a better community is the best one I think we can all make.”
        As you see, there’s no easy solution and that is why we are generating discussions at the grassroots of minor sport and invite people to engage in the discussion.

    1. Hi Tanya. That’s the best question you can ask. And the answer is now! As you read, parents like you have a great role to play in making multi-sport a reality. We say this because it is mostly parents who volunteer to coach, sit on boards of minor sport organizations, manage clubs, manage teams, by paying the cost of sport programs, coach, etc, etc, etc. So, the way to start is to share the fact that multi-sport is good for younger kids with other parents, coaches, organizers of sports in YOUR community. We truly believe that if enough parents talk about multi-sport, it will be made possible in many communities in the short term. Change is never easy, but in this case, it is the right thing to do.

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