Structural Sports Blog

Where we share our thoughts and rumblings from the world of youth sports

The Importance of Playing Multiple Sports

Posted 5/9/2013

Posted by: Darren Trencher

A solid sports foundation is built on many different experiences

There is true value in trying different things. Who we are comes from an incredible mix of the things we've experienced throughout our lives. This is true in sports activities as well. Each sport gives us an opportunity to learn something new or get a new perspective on something we've already learned.

As a teenager I played baseball and football, learned how to play tennis and spent my college years playing both indoor and outdoor volleyball. Each of these sports gave me a unique perspective on the core elements of sports and life in general.

For example my years as a baseball player taught me the importance of technique and how repetition could teach my body how to perform automatically. Today I know how important it is to get the little things right because that's where the rubber meets the road. I also learned hitting a baseball is really, really hard to do! Football taught me how critical discipline was to being successful. Doing your job, every play, is a major key to being a contributor on a team. This concept remained true, and became even more important, in my business career. Volleyball was great for the focus it taught me. The speed of the game meant that I had to pay attention and be ready at all times. I've spent over 20 years in the high tech industry and losing focus, even a little, means you get left behind. I learned the importance of hustle while playing tennis and raquetball. Never, ever give up on a ball and you'll surprise yourself. Life mirrors sports in so many ways that at times it's impossible to not look back and realize how my youth years shaped who I am today.

Of course all these elements are taught in all sports at some level. When I look back now I realize how playing many different sports helped me understand the importance of all these elements from various points of view.

Muscle Fatigue and Burnout

Whether it's working at a computer, doing the same workout routine every time or playing the same sport all year long the risk of burnout and muscle fatigue is very real. For young kids this is especially true. According to a 2005 study by the National Institutes of Health 35% of children who participate in organized sports drop out every year. By age 15 75% of youth no longer play organized youth sports. Of the many factors impacting our kids enjoyment on the playing field the lack of a fun environment and the fatigue kids feel from playing the sport were among the top factors driving dropouts.

As a society we realize the importance of mixing things up in order to keep us interested. The explosive growth of Crossfit workouts, for example, has helped invigorate the adult workout scene and pump variety into our visits to the gym. Our kids need this variety in their lives as well. Focusing on one sport all year long is like going to the same office building with the same desk and doing the same work day after day. Eventually it becomes boring and the excitement we had at the beginning fades to monotony and frustration.

As adults we might look for new jobs or just decide to 'suck it up' and slog through it because of that all important paycheck. Young kids will decide to just stop and drop out, even if it's something they started off loving. As a coach and parent nothing makes me sadder than to see this happen.

The risk of muscle fatigue and eventually injury is also hightened when the same muscle groups perform the same motion day after day. By mixing up a routine and exercising these muscle groups in different ways an athlete can maximize their potential while minimizing the risk of injury.

Playing a variety of youth sports helps young athletes do this without realizing it. Running laps around a track all day long can tax an athlete both physically and mentally. Jumping into a soccer game and covering the pitch for 60 minutes gives those legs a similar workout but in a different way. Working on rebounding every day all year long can quickly overtax certain muscle groups. Mixing in some work knocking down passes as a defensive back gives an athlete a similar goal of 'high pointing' a ball but in a much different way.

By mixing things up and developing strength, quickness and agility in a variety of ways an athlete can grow physically and mentally while maximizing the number one reason kids play sports - TO HAVE FUN!

Fundamental Learning

Young athletes, especially those between the ages of 6 and 13, are just beginning to understand what their bodies can and can't do. They are developing muscle mass, growing at an incredible pace and learning how to coordinate the actions of all the elements of their body. It's at this early age that they begin training their body on how to do more complex things like changing direction quickly, jumping and catching a ball at the same time and hopping or balancing on one foot.

All the activites our kids participate in add to the 'coaching' their body gets at this young age. It's now that our kids begin to develop muscle memory. As an example learning how to run the bases in baseball, cover the pitch in soccer, or get up and down the court in basketball teach our kids how to run properly. All three of these things do so in different ways. All three of these things add to our muscle memory bank and together help maxmize our running skill set.

By learning the proper way to perform fundamental actions early in their lives young athletes develop good training habits that will last forever. The understanding that kids gain by learning that doing things the right way takes hard work, focus and repetition is a lesson that extends well beyond the sports world.

Giving young athletes a chance to train their bodies through a variety of activities helps ensure that things won't become stale, boring and monotonous. Without realizing it a young athlete will become stronger and better at the sport they love by playing a variety of sports they like.

The Pressure to Win

Kids are smarter than adults. Kids have the right perspective. Kids know what's truly important. They aren't living through the accomplishments of anyone else yet. Kids rule, parents drool. The problem starts when parents and coaches, in many cases, drool over that all important 'win' or championship.

Many of us who have coached and or are the parents of athletes have been 'that fan' many times. Our heart starts pumping, We tense up and hold our breath waiting for that last out or that last second to tick away. We jump up and down during a big win like our team or our kids have just won the world series. We won't apologize for that. We want my kids to experience winning and we want to tell everyone our kid are winners. We want to pound our chest in pride. Yes, we do.

On the same note we carry around a loss for days. For example my wife hates it when my team loses because she knows what's coming. I crawl into my hole and stew there for days wondering what I could have done better, where I went wrong.

Our kids on the other hand, the ones who are actually playing and who all this is for, are upset and bummed right up till that all important moment when post game snacks are handed out. After that they are off playing and enjoying the rest of the weekend. Sure, they are bummed and not happy they lost. The difference is they know how to keep things in perspective. They are smarter than adults.

Youth coaches and many athletes families are increasingly enamored with that all important championship. I know because as as coach, and a parent of youth athletes, I've felt that way myself. Being part of a winning team is much better than being part of the losing one, both in sports and in general. We all know that.

Over the years though I've grown to understand that everything is relative and while I might feel hollow after a big loss and carry that around with me all weekend my kids do not. They are competitive and hate to lose but they keep things in perspective much better than I do. I could learn a lot from my kids. We all could.

Two of the major reasons kids drop out of youth sports are poor coaching and too much pressure. Poor coaching can be anything from a lack of coaching skill to a coach who is all about 'winning' and puts his or her success above the needs of the team and players.

Too many times I've witnessed coaches berating 8-9-10 year old athletes because they can't perform a skill correctly. I've seen kids running laps for 2 hours straight as punishment for 'slacking off'. I've known coaches who sit players on the bench the entire game because they want the 'best players' on the field or court so they can maxmize their chance to win. We've all seen it and maybe even done it ourselves as coaches at some point.

Instilling the desire to win and teaching young athletes what it takes to be a winner are critically important elements to coaching. Treating young players as professional athletes and taking over a team like it's our own personal fiefdom aren't. Youth sports exist for the youth, not the adults. As a youth coach I remind myself of that everyday.

Families aren't off the hook either. Too many times I've heard Mom's and Dad's shouting things like "how could you miss that shot!" or "he ran right over you...toughen up!". Heck, I've said, no yelled, at my kids plenty of times during games. Sure, it would be great to see your son or daughter make the playoffs or win a championship. We all want the best for our kids and being able to tell the world on Facebook that your kid won it all is a super cool way to show how proud we are. Unfortuantly in many cases tt's become the end game that we're all shooting for with our kids.

The Journey vs. the Destination

Maybe we've lost sight of the journey. I've been part of struggling teams and championship teams and I can tell you from experience the kids end up having just as much fun the day after when they're hanging out with their friends. The trophies sit on the shelf and collect dust and the moments they remember most are the times they or their friends did something special regardless of the outcome of the game.

Let's be honest and say winning is much better than losing. It's feel great to win and horrible to lose. As a coach, and parent, I want my teams to win and and more importantly I want my kids to want to win. Most importantly though I want those players to come back and play again the next season because they loved playing the game. Winning certainly helps but it shouldn't be the end all be all.

Sports, especially team sports, teach our kids important lessons in teamwork, hard work, focus, sportsmanship, friendship and how to handle success and failure. These are all lessons that carry more value off the field than on it.

Team sports are an integral part of growing up. The lessons learned in our youth stay with us forever and help shape who we become. It's important to remember youth sports are there for our kids, not for us and as stewards of our children it's our job to open their eyes to the variety of experiences the world has to offer and let them find the path they will eventually travel down. While competition is important to our kids, as coaches and parents, we should always remember the reason our kids play team sports - to be with their friends and TO HAVE FUN!

Written by: Darren Trencher; Youth Coach, Crazed Parent and owner of Structural Sports.


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