The Benefits of Playing Multiple Sports by Michael Heald
SPECIALIZATION – A word that has become more and more popular with the steady decline of multi-sport athletes. There is a growing belief, among parents and coaches alike, that an athlete must choose one sport to devote 100% of their time and effort to if they want success. Ironically, in my experience, success is what is primarily at stake with this belief.
I cannot argue that there aren’t benefits to specializing in a single sport. Many professional athletes took the route of dedicating the entirety of their focus into one skill. However, my argument is that the positives of playing multiple sports outweigh that of specialization and can bring along more long term success in the end, especially during adolescents.
Take injuries for example. In an article written by Judith Thompkins for Livestrong.com, playing multiple sports can “give parts of your body a chance to rest,” and “also improve the strength and condition of many parts of your body.” Playing baseball at a high level for most of my life, I came across a litany of players dealing with or having already dealt with elbow and/or rotator cuff injuries. Tommy John surgery, a procedure in which a ligament in the elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body, was all too common among my teammates and friends. While there are a multitude of ways for this injury to occur, I think it is somewhat clear that the overuse of one muscle group is the primary cause. Dr. James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon who has worked on athletes from Brett Favre to Albert Pujols, and most recently known as the primary doctor dealing with the knee injury of Robert Griffin III, states that prior to 2004 he had not performed any Tommy John surgeries on children and has since worked on over 50 kids subsequent to the trend towards specialization. In an article written by Dan Clemens for momsteam.com, a website “for Sports Parents,” sports specialization is again linked with injuries caused by overuse. “The repetitive motion of same game, same skills and same drills is often a recipe for stress fractures, growth-plate disruption, and a wide variety of overuse injuries.” (Playing Multiple Sports: A Healthy Advantage for Youth Athletes)
It was noted earlier that playing multiple sports can give the body a chance to rest various muscle groups. The same can be said for various parts of the brain. Engaging in more than one sport gives kids a much needed change of pace that will keep their minds more focused, interested, and well rested. Let’s use school as an example. Students do not take math courses all day every day growing up. That would be foolish, there would be no variety, no chance to grow in other important areas, and inevitably they would – burnout. Ah! A dreaded word that reaps fear into the hearts and minds of every aspiring athlete. A word I know all too well.
As a young athlete I engaged in any sport I could. Soccer, basketball, baseball, golf, gymnastics, swimming, diving, if it was competitive I wanted in. I loved sports and the camaraderie that coincided. It wasn’t until age 12 that I was forced to make a decision to specialize. At that point in time the choice was clear to me, I was going to choose the sport that would eventually earn me a college scholarship, I was gong to be the next Derek Jeter, I was going to play baseball. While I continued to sprinkle in soccer and football during high school, baseball was still the dominating force in my life, and having to travel a couple hours to and from practice, consumed most of my spare time. At 16 years old that dreaded word started to rear it’s head. I was beginning to burnout. I began to feel as though I was missing out on something, not fully knowing what that was. I was extremely fortunate to avoid any injury during this time, however, I was unable to avoid the divide caused by such a high level of commitment to one activity. My grades began to suffer in high school, my relationship with close friends wasn’t where it had been, and thus, I began to push away from the sport that I loved.
I continued to play through the latter years of high school and into college, however, it was clear to my parents and to others close to me that it wasn’t with the same passion and devotion that had brought me this far. I often think about what might have been if I had not given in to the trendy demand to specialize and had given my body and my mind the rest and variety that it needed. But while I look back, wondering if my grades may have been better, or if the bonds with my friends may have been tighter, I realize that I have the unique opportunity to educate. With a teaching degree in my back pocket and a love for coaching, my hope is to share my story.
Michael Heald grew-up outside of Seattle and excelled in baseball. In 2001 his Little League team made it to the Little League World Series and he continued to play into college. While in college, he pursued a degree in education before settling into his role as Staffing Director at Camp Cobbossee for Boys in Maine. Camp Cobbossee is an all-b0ys camp in Maine that offers boys a variety of sports and activities. Cobbossee’s program allows boys to continue to improve in the sports they enjoy as well as try new ones.