Sports are an integral part of a child’s physical as well as psychological and emotional growth. It not only builds athletic skills and promotes physical growth but also builds character, leadership skills, analytical thinking, risk taking and strategic thinking. And participation in multiple sports accelerates and polishes these processes even further. There have been multiple examples of the professional and unprofessional athletes who participated in multiple sports while growing up. These individuals, who participated in multiple sports, were able to get success in their future. The list of most popular multi-sports athletes of all times includes Jackie Robinson, Dave Debusschere, Keith Ericson, John Elway and many others. All these athletes made their names in the world of sports despite their participation in more than one sport. Multi sports participation did not become a hindrance in the way of achieving excellence in any one game. It rather helped them polish their physical, athletic, motor, and social skills. Multi sports participation versus specialization has been a topic of discussion in the sports circles for a very long time. The contention is based on the premises that specialization in a single sport enhances prospects for athletes. Whereas, the second group supports multi-sport participation on the premises that it not only helps develop the athlete’s physical skills as an athlete but it also promotes his social, emotional and other motor skills growth. This essay contends that the two-sport athletes are physically and psychologically more tuned and healthy thus have better prospects in future.
Many sports coaches believe that, for an athlete, it is a good idea to participate in multiple sports because it may help them to enhance their sports skills which not only help them to perform better on the ground but also make their future bright. The football coach at the former University of Southern California said;
“I want participant that are so competitive, and so special athletically that they can compete in multiple sports.” (Curtis pg.1)
This statement of the coach shows that that the athletes who participate in multiple sports can perform better as an athlete, and so they get better chances in future. The participation in multiple sports makes them valuable recruit. Moreover, it has also been observed that when the awards and scholarships are distributed amongst athletes, then the coaches focus on the importance of athletic versatility which indicated that somewhere it is important for the athlete to participate in multiple sports. Also, the athlete, who has the athletic versatility or has been a participant in the multiple sports, is considered as more talented and so he becomes a better recruiting prospect.
One of the reasons why many coaches stress on participation in multiple sports is that it reduces the risk of overuse injuries which many athletes face when they engage in a single sport for long hours and tighter schedules. The reason is when an athlete engages in one single sport for a long time, one or more set of joins become subjected to overuse which results in subsequent hurt. Almost all sports include the overuse of one set of joints. For example, Baseball players often get injuries in their elbows. They have to go through Tommy John surgeries to repair the ligaments in their elbows. Football player gets low-back pain because of the overuse. Another injury common in football players is Patellar tendinitis (knee pain) (Levine & Owens).
These overuse sports injuries can be prevented by cutting short the time and duration of participation in one single sport. And the best way to do that is engaging in other sports as well as it helps keep the body in athletic mode, enhancing athletic skills, while reducing the risk of overuse injuries at the same time. According to Coakley (1992), early specialization in kids has also been linked to dropping out, burn out and injury (70-93% more likely injured) (qt in Valley). Overuse is not just a physical thing but a mental one as well. And it can have a negative impact on the psychological developments of the athletes.
Bill Bruno and et al. (2013) presented their study about the participation of healthier athlete in multiple sports and its effect on their future. In his research, he discussed that the successful athletes do not only rely on single sport rather they also participate in other sports to keep them healthier and fit to face the obstacles as an athlete. Most of the people think that specialization in one sport can make the athlete better sportsman but Bruno, in his research, discussed that it is not specialization which makes athlete ready for his future rather his participation in multiple sports can help him. Multiple sports participation not only makes the athlete’s muscles strong but also helps him to overcome the issue of physical overuse. He concluded that the participation in two sports or more could help the athlete to be fit not only physically but also emotionally and makes him fit to prove his worth in the ground (Bruno and Bruno).
Two-sport or multi-sport athletes also have better social and emotional growth. The participants, when engaging in one single sport for a very long time, put themselves under a lot of pressure. Since the aim of engaging in one sport over a long time is specialization, the fear of failing to gain the desired success also increases the anxiety and pressure thus affecting their emotional health. Those who tackle the pressure and anxiety in a positive way can channelize this energy into their work. But, many times, players fail to cope with the negative feelings successfully thus leading to depression. This affects their athletic skills and performance. The adolescents who participate in multiple sports have healthier psychological profiles (Valley).
Similarly, if sports help develop leadership skills, team spirit, and fair play, on the one hand; on the other, it can sometimes bolster the competition spirit on a negative scale thus giving rise to jealousy and animosity among the rivals (Ghildiyal). While the same can or cannot happen in a scenario of multi – sports participation, the chances are that the athletes may learn to play sports for the sake of fun beyond the fear and pressure of specialization and above the worries of making a successful future. This helps them have a more liberal outlook on their skills and potentials as well as those of their fellow players.
This, in turn, enhances their performance; boosts their confidence and have a healthier impact on their emotional development. Multi-sports athletes also get to widen their social circle. By participating in multiple sports, they meet and interact with the different group of people. Each group of people has their group-specific norms and customs. Thus they get a chance to work on their social skills which they often miss out on in specialization courses. In specialized training programs, the schedules are tight, and participants hardly get any chance to engage in social life outside their small circle of fellow players. Thus by engaging in multiple sports, athletes get a chance to polish another of their skill that is social skills which help them build a successful career in future in or outside the field of sports.
As is said earlier, multi-sports participation allows for free time play; it also makes athletes more creative. Through the development of their other motor skills, athletes develop a physical literacy which helps them perform better and reduces the risk of injuries. Robin S. Vealey, Ph.D., talks about the development of physical literacy and motor skills in her article “Athlete Development Through Multiple Sports Participation.” She starts her arguments with debunking the myth that early specialization in kids helps develop their motor skills. According to her, early specialization helps in the development of motor skills for some kids only in some sports. She further says that some children can diversify early and still attain success in most sports as an adult.
According to the Mountain of Motor Skills Development presented by Clarke and Metcalf (2002) and revised by Vealey and Chase (2016), children must engage in multiple sports to polish their motor skills which would help them develop a physical literacy subsequently necessary in performing specific sports (Valley).If a child successfully develops his motor skills, it would make his movements well co-ordinated, mechanically efficient and controlled and often automatic. The set of motor skills which an athlete must develop as a child includes throw, catch, kick, run, jump, dribble, punt, fall, hop, slide, trap, leap, strike, skip, gallop, roll and dodge (Valley). As is apparent, this skill set cannot be learned by engaging in one sport only. Participation in two or multiple sports is significant as a child even if the athlete intends to specialize in one particular game as an adult. For example, David Leadbetter talks about one of his students whom he coached since age 12 saying that:
[He] has had a solid career but he hasn’t achieved what some thought he might. I feel that part of the problem is that he only played golf growing up. That hurts him. In other ball games, you develop a feel for throwing and distance. He never did that. He doesn’t have the instinctive touch or hand-eye coordination you need to hit the ball on close-in shots. If only he’d played baseball or basketball as a kid. That would have helped him. (Qt in Valley)
This quote by David Leadbetter shows that those players who play more than one sport better motor functions and also gain a better physical literacy which is indispensable to achieve success in sports.
Janine Tucker, the coach at John Hopkins University, also talks about the better motor skills development of the athletes who participate in multiple games thus having a better chance of getting recruitments. She says:
We prefer multi-sport athletes for the diversity of skill sets that they have developed. One of the first questions we ask recruits is “do you play basketball?” Then they understand angles, footwork, and how to get low on defense. We also love soccer players because they can run all day. (Qt in Valley).
As opposed to athletes who specialize in a specific sport, those who play multi-sports have a reduced chance of burnout. Premature training can decrease the chances of falling in love with a sport for an athlete (Valley). Nicole Garrett et al. talk about the role of multi-sport participation in the development of an athlete in their article “Variations in Adolescent Engagement in Sports and its Influence on Positive Youth Development” (Holt 9). In their report, they studied a total of 1122 adolescents out of the original 3500 male as well female participants to study the impact of sports on youth development. One of their research questions was to find out the influence of changing patterns of engagement in various sports on the development of the different group of young people.
Though the researchers concluded that the relationship between participation and adolescent functioning is complex, however, changing patterns of engagement result in greater interest and participation (Holt 21). This study by Garret et al. supports the original contention of this paper that multi-sport participation enhances the success rate for the athletes. It increases the active-play-engagement of the athletes, thereby increasing their physical literacy. While those who play only one sport are at a greater risk of burn outs, those who play multi sports stay involved in physical activities for the longer time without getting bored.
James Boyd, the head-coach and General Manager of the Ontario Hockey League Mississauga Steelheads, also talks about engaging in multiple sports to avoid the risk of burn out. Talking about his sports kit, he says that football, a few baseballs gloves, and a pile of tennis balls are the things he always includes in his kit. According to him, the hockey players must take a break now and then to avoid risking burnouts and overuse. He says:
I think the players benefit from taking a break. You benefit from setting aside some time for yourself to recharge mentally even it is heading up to the cottage and sticking a fishing pole in the water. (Toth 2)
And to maintain the passion for the game, taking breaks is also of utmost significance. Though these breaks, by no means, become an obstacle in the way of the success of an athlete.
To conclude this argument, it would be pertinent to say that multi-sports athletes have a better chance of future success as they are better adapted physically, physiologically, psychologically, and socially. Though specialization is the key to success, engaging in one single sport can become an obstacle in the very way of specialization itself. By making them participate in multiple sports, coaches can keep the hold on the interest and active play engagement of the athletes. Sports is all about skills and performance and, for an athlete, these skills can be achieved by the participation in multiple sports. As is shown by the research conducted by Valley, multiple sports participation enhances the motor skills develops of the kids who are indispensable for their future physical literacy as adults.
This physical literacy helps them specialize in specific sports and achieve the level of excellence which ensures their success. Multiple sports participation not only makes their muscles and bodies strong but also helps them to enhance their emotional skills as an athlete. The athletes, who participate in two or more sports, understand how to perform well on the ground and for that their body and brain supports them. Multiple sports participation makes them mentally and physically capable of becoming a well-rounded athlete and enhancing their athletic networking. It reduces the anxiety and pressure which an athlete feels when he starts specialization training at an early age. The pressure often results in thwarting of the interest and passion in the sport.
When the athlete is emotionally and physically well rounded and well-tuned, he performs better in the ground. In turn, his performance opens the doors of success to him. From this study it can be easily concludes that the reason behind the success of best performances of athletes is their participation in multiple sports. This calls for a change in the sports philosophy of our educational institutes. They should promote participation in multiple sports. This would alleviate the pressure of specialization from the students and help achieve the true purpose of participating in sports which are recreation as well as physical and spiritual health.
Bruno, Bill, and Jeannette Bruno. Multiple-sport Participation for a Healthier Athlete. 2013. 12 March 2017 <http://www.mhsaa.ca/files/multiple-sport-participation-for-a-healthier-athlete.pdf>.
Ghildiyal, Rakesh. “Role of Sports in the Development of an Individual and Role of Psychology in Sports.” Mens Sana Monographs 13.1 (2015): 165–170. PMC. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.
Holt, Nicholas L ed. Positive Youth Development Through Sports. London: Routledge, 2008. Web.
Garrett et al. “Variations in Adolescent Engagement in Sports and its Influence on Positive Youth Development.”
Matava, Mathew J. “Overuse Injuries.” Stop Sports Injuries. Stopsportsinjuries.org. web. 18 Apr 2017.
Toth, Mike. “Beating Hockey Burnout.” Hockey Now. Ontariolacrosse.com. 26 Mar 2016. Web. 18 Apr 2017
Valley, Robin S. “Athlete Development Through Multiple Sports Participation.” Department of Kinesiology and Health. Miami University (OH). Humankinetics.com web. 18 Apr 2017