As a current USports retiree from the sport of basketball, I would strongly recommend striving to play post-secondary sports to any aspiring kid in whatever they choose. Sports are a very common extracurricular activity for a huge amount of Canadians, ranging from elementary school all the way up college. The desire to play a university sport has caused an unfortunate trend in kids starting to play one specific sport at an earlier age each year. This epidemic is known as “specializing” or becoming a one-sport athlete at an early age. Parents and teens have an incorrect belief that this specialization creates the ultimate opportunity for the athlete, as they have been putting 100% of their time into one sport. This common misconception causes many unwanted side effects for the athletes’ careers and everyday life moving forward.
My parents put me in every sport possible growing up, as their belief was to promote an active lifestyle, however, they also let me decide what I enjoyed and wanted to pursue. These are both small cogs in the psychological machine that is a multi-sport athlete. What I discovered are three key elements that make multi-sport athletes develop more in their sport and everyday life.
Firstly, playing multiple sports benefits you with a high IQ. Cross-training (training for multiple sports over a period of time) invokes creativity in the athlete, which could mean using part of a football route to make a cut on the basketball court. Many athletes also train in boxing to apply fast footwork to any sport with an underlying emphasis on that skill. Rob Bell, PhD, a sports psychologist, recently reported that in 2015, that 85% of the NFL players drafted that year were multi-sport athletes, either in college or high school. Single sport athletes suffer from not learning different movements, and remain somewhat robotic and predetermined in their activity on the court/field.
Secondly, learning how to compete is more easily learned as a multi-sport athlete. When you are presented with so many different conditions and variables, it presents different levels of focus and resiliency. These two skills are maybe the most transferable to your everyday life, teaching you how to endure slow-paced and drawn out pressure (baseball), or quick action with quick reads (basketball).
The most important aspect for me personally is how to be a good teammate, as this is something I prided myself on in my university basketball career. The more sports your child plays, the more personalities they will have to deal with. Being able to read and adapt to personalities on and off the playing field is such a lost art. If you have the ability to comply and battle with all types of team members, the better leader you can become. Coincidently, being able to lead and be an outstanding teammate is usually what holds a great team together. This whole principle also applies to how responsive you are to your coach, the more experience you have with separate coaching styles, the more willing you will be to adapt. Single sport athletes often suffer from having to be carried along with the team, and are less able to adapt and play for anyone but themselves.
Sports shape who you are: they give you life experience that you cannot ever replace. Like most extra-curricular activities, you are selling yourself short if you just involve yourself in one. I’ve gained most of my experience on the basketball court from playing sports like soccer, volleyball, and badminton, which I hadn’t realized until thinking about this scenario more deeply. Specialization in one sport before post-secondary education is a mistake: give yourself or your child the right experiences to succeed.