Coach B's Lax Blog

Lacrosse – Anything & Everything – What else is there?

The Value of Playing Multiple Sports

As a coach and parent I have heard a great deal recently about athletes focusing exclusively on one sport year-round rather than diversifying and playing multiple (or seasonal sports).  As a lacrosse coach, I want our boys to have the best training possible so we can be the best team possible.  We must all realize, however, that our boys are still just that – boys.  In a recent article entitled Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was noted that:

Single-sport, year-round training and competition is becoming more common for children and adolescents. A focus on participating in 1 sport, or single-sport specialization, to improve, advance, and compete at the highest level may drive youth to participate for long hours daily on 1 or more teams at a time.

The motivation behind this over involvement may be induced by the young athlete or parent or both.  Of course, there are legitimate reasons some kids play only one sport: lack of time, limited budgets, hectic schedules, etc.  But there is one reason I have a difficult time accepting as legitimate – coaches and/or parents who force kids to pick one sport.  As more young athletes are becoming professionals at a younger age, there seems to be more pressure to grab a piece of the “professional pie,” “to obtain a college scholarship, or to make the Olympic team.”  Most young athletes and their parents fail to realize that, depending on the sport, only 0.2% to 0.5% of high school athletes ever make it to the professional level.  Yet, youth continue to specialize in one sport while participating on multiple teams and risk overuse and/or burnout if there is no break from athletics during the year.  The nationally renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, has stated that “playing multiple sports gives our body the opportunity to use certain muscles while others are resting.  By forcing kids to pick one sport, the same muscles are used over and over without recovery time.”  Young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty.

The American Academy of Pediatrics further found (and it should be common sense to all of us) that “Well-rounded, multisport athletes have the highest potential to achieve the goal of lifelong fitness and enjoyment of physical activity while avoiding some of the pitfalls of overuse, overtraining, and burnout provided that they participate in moderation and are in tune with their bodies for signs of overuse or fatigue.”  There is no doubt in my mind that the skills our boys attain playing football, basketball, soccer, etc., transfer in large way to the lacrosse field (and vice versa).  In fact, as a lacrosse coach, I believe many of players obtain their toughness from football, hockey or wrestling.  They also obtain quickness and agility from basketball and soccer. 

Obviously our boys should be free to choose the sports they enjoy the most, but no player or parent should believe that to excel in a particular sport it is necessary to focus on that single sport year round to the detriment of other sports.  We are all aware of many athletes who have excelled in numerous sports: Jim Thorpe, Jim Brown, Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Anthony Gonzalez.  Jackie Robinson was one of the greatest athletes of all time, yet many only know him as a baseball player. In college, Jackie starred in football, basketball, track and baseball.  It’s a good thing Jackie Robinson wasn’t forced to pick one sport at an early age. Reportedly, baseball was his least favorite sport.

Many of our boys play multiple sports throughout the year either simultaneously or during different seasons.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Multisport athletes are at risk of overuse injuries if they do not get sufficient rest between daily activities or if they do not get a break between seasons.”  At this point in our children’s’ lives, the ultimate goal of participation in sports should be to promote lifelong physical activity, recreation, and skills of healthy competition that can be used in all facets of future endeavors. 

To this end, it’s important that we (as coaches and parents) all make sure that at this point in time, the focus of sports participation should be on fun, skill acquisition, safety, and sportsmanship.  Keep an eye on your boys.  If they are stressed, complaining of nonspecific muscle or joint problems, experiencing fatigue, or experiencing poor academic performance, be alert for possible burnout.  I know no parent or coach wants who wants a young player to burnout or injure himself as a result of overwork.  We do not want to lose our young athletes because the sport ceases to be fun.  Well-balanced sports participation should be an important part of a child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being.  It should also go without saying that consistent with my philosophy as described above; no member of my spring team should feel compelled to play on any off-season lacrosse team in lieu of other sports they wish to play.

I am a member of and adherent to the philosophy of The Positive Coaching Alliance.  The Positive Coaching Alliance advocates a double goal for coaches: to win and, even more importantly, to use sports to teach life lessons through Positive Coaching.  If any parent would like to further discuss this issue with me, I invite them to contact me.

 – Coach B

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