Parents are now told that if their child doesn’t participate in more than one sport, this young boy or girl is somehow missing out. In order to fulfill athletic and general development, different activities and different experiences are necessary, lest the child experience burnout. It sounds great on paper. It sounds even better when you stand in front of a room full of concerned parents and help assuage their fears! Unfortunately, it’s just like more generalized statements. It lacks CONTEXT!
The player is the syllabus. The CHILD is the syllabus. What works for one might not work for the other, and what works for some definitely won’t work for others.
A few months back a young girl had joined our “youth academy” at the club I coach at, and before she left the car she was hysterical! All the young boys and girls were having a blast, with a smile on their face, but this young girl seemed to cry more as the practice went on. Finally, the parents came up to us and asked us for our advice. They explained that their daughter loved gymnastics and asked to be signed up for it over the Fall, but they decided it would be better to put their daughter in a completely new sport.
This girl’s first experience with the sport many of us love was one of emotional terror, simply because parents listened to a nice talk on development rather than their own daughter’s desires. The multi-sport development route leaves little for context. If your child doesn’t play three sports, are you even doing your job as a parent? Are you doing the best you can for your child? It has become such an extreme that is has taken the other end of the development spectrum, when its original intention was to combat the “extreme” of single sport participation.
I know of some of my younger players who consistently ask where their teammates are every other practice. People figure out very quickly, and the idea of who is committed and who is not is one that sticks for even a young player. Those missing the practice think the same thing, as they begin to lose that connection to the team as they are torn between three different groups. Can they ever really establish themselves over the course of a season and form those bonds with the group they are a supposedly a part of?
We worry about burnout, which can be a legitimate fear, but we seem to forget that with more sports comes more practice. A child who only plays soccer, who only wants to play soccer, and has two structured practices a week is at more risk of burnout than a child who has baseball on Monday and Wednesday, Soccer on Tuesday and Thursday, and Lacrosse, Soccer, and Baseball on the weekend? Interesting.
We have an environment where on a Saturday or Sunday players are finishing their soccer game only to be whisked away in the mini-van to their flag football game, followed by their baseball game under the lights. To argue that this is better than single sport development is foolish, because both are just generalized ideas not suited for individualized plans.
The business model is one that doesn’t address the real problem. The panic culture that has been created is one in which we do a disservice to families by making them think they are less than if their child only plays in the sport he or she wants to. What’s the difference between this and buying baby Mozart CD’s in the hopes that a child becomes smarter, but never giving them a book to read?
The answer is right in front of you. It’s simple. It’s easy, in fact. It’s right under your nose and you don’t need to read this or a fancy Ted Talk to understand. The answer is your child. If your child has a passion for playing multiple sports, encourage the passion. They may never choose just one, and you know what, that’s ok. You still should instill the values of commitment and hard work as well as focusing on the task at hand. If it’s within your means and you can make it work, then go for it.
If your child wants to play only one sport because they have a deep passion for it, then let them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to try new things, or encouraging them to try new things, but they should have ownership of the process. It isn't that multi-sport development is wrong, or single sport development is evil. It's that your child deserves the unique path in which they can develop to their needs.
More often than not, they are trying to show you the path they want to take. Close your mouth, open your ears, and let them show you the way.