Today’s multi-sport, same season athlete is someone who commits to two (or more) different sports at the same time. This trend has been growing for about the last ten years, and more kids each year are participating in multiple sports during the same sport season. Historically, kids played one new sport each season, but in the early 2000’s we began seeing more sport specialization (i.e. kids who play only one sport, often year-round) and less sport sampling. Today, we still see sport specialization, but we are also seeing increasingly more kids take on multiple sports concurrently, leading to a host of new issues and challenges — many unplanned for and/or overlooked by both kids and their parents. Playing multiple sports can be fun, but it can also leave kids vulnerable to an increased risk for physical and mental health issues.
Potential problems with multiple sports during the same season
The most obvious concern when kids play multiple sports during the same season is the greater chance for physical injury, as the more kids push their bodies the more they risk injury (especially with little down time because of multiple sport commitments). Arguably the biggest mental health challenge kids experience competing in multiple sports is the greater chance of sport staleness, fatigue, and ultimately sport burnout. Remember, the #1 reason why kids play sports is to have fun, but when kids begin viewing sports as more of a job than a fun childhood experience the odds for sports burnout increase dramatically.
Interestingly, there are additional potential problems beyond injuries and burnout that are not always immediately recognized by kids and their parents, including:
- Scheduling conflicts. Kids who play on 2 or more teams during the same sport season will almost certainly experience time conflicts, forcing them to choose between their teams. Coaches, consequently, are then left to try and catch kids up with what they missed on a given practice or team event.
- Playing time. Playing off the previous point, it becomes tough to justify playing kids who only attend a portion of the practices because they were with their other team. Put another way, how does a coach tell a kid who has fully committed to the team and not missed any practices that he is playing behind another kid who has only attended some of the practices? These kinds of situations are the ones coaches dread as they leave themselves open for calls of “politics” when they make special concessions for the multiple sport kid.
- Upset teammates. Similar to the challenges coaches face, other kids on the team can become frustrated never knowing if the multiple sport kid will be attending practices and games. How do you develop team chemistry when you never know when certain kids are going to be around the team.
- Miss out on other life experiences. Kids who play multiple sports will not only have difficulty scheduling their time between the different teams they play for, but will also likely miss family vacations, backyard cookouts, graduation and birthday parties, and many more academic and social experiences. In fact, simply finding time to hang out with family can become really tough for kids who don’t have enough hours in the day to do all that they are expected to do.
Remember, just because everyone seems to be doing something does not make it good or right for you! Yes, more kids are committing to multiple teams, but is this always a healthy decision? Rather than getting caught up in thinking you have to keep up, perhaps instead consider the following ideas:
- The odds of making it. Even if your child plays on multiple sport teams the odds of an eventual full-ride athletic scholarship is less than 5%, and the odds of making it to the pros are far less than that. Talk as a family about these realities and use these figures to help guide the level and intensity of your sport experience.
- Talk openly and without judgement. So, does your child really want to play on all those teams, or are you directing the experience for your own reasons? If you have your own unfinished business with sports, consider working through those issues either on your own or with a professional.
- Discuss commitment and responsibility. Help your kids understand that being a part-time player to multiple teams because it is impossible to fully commit to each team can really leave coaches and teammates in a bind. Might it be better to instead fully commit to one team and make it a point to responsibly attend all practices and games? Many youth coaches would highly suggest this consideration.
The multiple sport, same season prototype is likely here to stay, but this does not necessarily mean it is a good route to go. If you do decide to allow your child to play 2 or more sports during the same season, be sure to evaluate the risks involved (physical and mental), as well as potential issues with coaches and teammates when they see that your child only participates with the team on a part-time basis. And finally, make sure to think about the other life opportunities that will almost certainly be missed, and if sports are more important than those other experiences.