The advantages of playing multiple sports in adolescence
Imagine growing up in a family full of chefs. There’s no way you’re going to avoid learning how to prepare food in this household, and you pick up on it early and show potential. You’re so good, in fact, that although you’re only 12 years old, your parents decide that you should stop microwaving food or cooking on the stove top, and instead focus solely on your abilities with the grill.
Crazy, right? But in many athletic circles around the nation, that is a normal occurrence. While other factors — economics or availability, for example — may play into a family’s decision on which sports their child participates in, other factors have been dominating conversations. There is no better way for a child to dominate a sport, they argue, than to perfect the craft through specialization; additionally, they believe that a certain aura of confidence is present in athletes who specialize early on.
This trend, however, hasn’t necessarily found footing in the Concordia area. In incoming Concordia High School senior Matthew Gatewood’s opinion, it’s for the better.
“I think it’s good for kids to play multiple sports, starting at a young age, since it gives you an opportunity to find what you really enjoy and what you’re good at,” Gatewood, a standout basketball and baseball player for the Orioles, said.
Gatewood has been a multi-sport athlete as long as he can remember. Although he plays “just” two sports at the varsity level, Gatewood grew up playing football and soccer, as well. Like many kids in the area, Gatewood’s parents loved sports and started him at a young age. Gatewood’s passion and love for athletics took over from there, ensuring he would always want to compete in some variation of sports.
However, the advantages of staying in multiple sports through the early years of adolescence can be seen outside of just preferences in what the athletes choose to play. Multisport athletes learn skills from other sports that can transfer across sports — footwork developed as a baseball catcher, for instance, might help that player when he plays offensive line in football, or post in basketball. They also “burn out” — meaning generally grow bored with a certain sport — at a lesser rate if they play multiple sports. And while injuries from one sport might hamper skills in another sport, this is an unfortunate part of the game, and playing just one sport doesn’t necessarily alleviate any risk of athletes getting injured. In fact, research shows that athletes who play multiple sports are actually more likely to get overuse injuries — think UCL tears on overthrown 12-year-old pitchers, leading to early Tommy John surgery or worse.
While there are many different factors to look at before deciding what the best route is for you or your child, Gatewood has one piece of advice for the athletes deciding which sports to get serious about.
“Have fun in whatever you do,” he suggests. “Pick a sport that you have a passion for, but also branch out and try new things.”
Not everybody will get the opportunity to be a professional two-sport superstar like Bo Jackson was for the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
But legendary NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady (18th round selection, 1995 MLB Draft), Dan Marino (fourth round, 1979) and John Elway (second round, 1981) were able to succeed at both baseball and football before settling with one sport.
Like a chef cross-applying skills he learned for stovetop cooking into grilling, an athlete can find many perks to playing multiple sports through childhood and adolescence.
Pros and cons can be debated, but there is no debating the memories you don’t make, skills you don’t learn, and shots you don’t take by focusing on just one sport at an early age.