There is no question that playing multiple sports as a youth athlete will create a well-rounded athlete. Some parents may argue otherwise, but if you look at the history of some of the best athletes in recent history, the facts speak for themselves. Many great athletes played multiple sports in high school. Michael Jordan played baseball, football and, of course, basketball. LeBron James played basketball and was a star football player for his high school. Derek Jeter ran cross country and played basketball and baseball. The carryover of skills from sport to sport leads to a more complete athlete and helps prevent overuse injuries. Each sport builds off each other.
At a young age, kids do not know what their passions are. They want to be where their friends are. JL always stresses to us as coaches that we can push our young athletes and make them better, but none of it matters if the kids are not having fun.
I played college football as a defensive tackle. While in high school, I played football, baseball, and I wrestled. Football was my passion, but wresting kept me conditioned, stable and strong, while baseball helped keep my conditioning, running mechanics and build rotational power. I never felt burned out on any sport because, A. I loved them all equally, and B. each time I returned to one sport, it had been at least 5-6 months since I had last played that sport so I was more motivated to get practicing and honing my skills. My rule was that I only focused on ONE SPORT AT A TIME. I was always committed to my team, whichever one it was at the time. In my mind, I was being disrespectful to my teammates if I was not committing 100% time and effort to my team.
Not long ago, I was chatting with a 9-year old athlete. When I first saw him, he looked exhausted. It was just before 5:00pm and it looked like this kid had been put through the ringer. Kids this age should have loads of energy at this time of day. When I commented on how tired he looked, he proceeded to tell me his schedule for that day. He had football practice immediately after school until 4:45pm, came to train at 5pm, then had baseball practice that evening from 6:30pm until 8pm. “When do you do your homework?” I asked. He said that he will stay up until 10 to get his homework done, not to mention that the kid needs to eat to fuel his body for all these sports.
SADLY, WE LIVE IN A WORLD THAT THINKS THAT EVERYONE NEEDS A GOLD MEDAL. THESE DAYS, IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW BAD YOU ARE AT A SPORT, YOU WILL ALWAYS COME OUT AS A “WINNER”. WHEN I CAME HOME IN FIFTH GRADE WITH A SIXTH PLACE RIBBON AFTER FIELD DAY (DID I MENTION THAT I WAS A HUSKY KID?) I WAS HAPPY.
My parents have always supported me in everything that I have done in my life, especially sports. They never missed a game, even if they had to drive 4 or 5 hours to get there. I think the only college football game they missed was our game at Wisconsin-Whitewater during my senior year, only because my dad had to work. They were my biggest cheerleader, but not my worst critic. If I would lose, they would not let me pout, but kick me in the pants and tell me to do better next time. I have learned a lot from my parents and I think others can too. From the way they handled my sports career (if you want to call it a career) I came up with some simple tips for parents that can help your kids become more well-rounded athletes and free up some time on your schedules.
ONE SPORT AT A TIME
While there will be some overlap between sports, kids need to focus on one sport at a time. This will teach them commitment, while taking some commitments off of your schedule. They should commit completely to their current team and be doing everything in their power to improve at this particular sport so, when a critical time in the season occurs, their teammates will not be let down. The athlete I mentioned before could have spent an extra 1.5 hours on his homework if he had just committed to football and his training. It will bring more excitement each time he or she returns to other sports each season.
LET THEM HAVE FUN
At a young age, kids do not know what their passions are. They want to be where their friends are. JL always stresses to us as coaches that we can push our young athletes and make them better, but none of it matters if the kids are not having fun. If they are passionate about something at any certain time, let them do it. My parents let me do anything I wanted if I committed totally to it. I played music in school, but during eighth grade, I told them it wasn’t fun anymore. This was heartbreaking to my dad, because he was a musician and would have love me to be one too. He swallowed his pride and said, “finish out this year and if it still isn’t fun to you, you can do something else.” It was half way into my freshman year in high school that I missed playing music and wanted to get back into it. If your kids are not having fun playing a sport, encourage them try something else, but only after they finish the season they have committed to. Let’s face it, I don’t remember any eighth grader receiving a college scholarship to play for Ohio State on Saturday’s, do don’t put that expectation on them. Let them play, and, most importantly, have fun.
LET THEM LOSE
Sadly, we live in a world that thinks that everyone needs a gold medal. These days, it does not matter how bad you are at a sport, you will always come out as a “winner”. When I came home in fifth grade with a sixth place ribbon after field day (did I mention that I was a husky kid?) I was happy. I didn’t get a ribbon the year before, and to get that ribbon, I beat my best friend in a sack race and had fun doing it! That was all I needed to be happy. When I wrestled, if I was not on the podium after a tournament, I was angry with myself. The fact that I did not place fueled me with a fire that caused me to work harder and listen to my coaches and get better so when my junior and senior year came around, I would be on that podium after every tournament. If I was upset after a big loss, my parents would not sit and cry with me or let me feel sorry about myself. They would just say, “what can you do better for next time?” They did not expect me to be the best, but they always expected me to try hard to get better.
Young kids do not need to be molded into professional athletes at such young ages. They do not need to be so driven that they do not have time to be a kid. They need to train to learn how to use their bodies, get stronger to prevent injuries, and learn skills that can carry over into any sport that they may be passionate about, even if it is just a short time. Allow them to explore their interests, not yours. Teach them commitment and hold them to it, but if they are not having fun let them commit something else.