23 Mar 3 Benefits of Early Diversification in Youth Sports
Let’s start this discussion off with an analogy with two kids.
Kid #1 likes science. He only takes science classes at school, only reads science books, studies science and nothing else, in fact, he decides to sign up for the science club at school. He wants to be a doctor.
Kid #2 also likes science. However, he chooses to take a myriad of classes: science, art, photography, psychology, math, German. He studies science, he loves science, but he embarks on other pursuits of education. He also wants to be a doctor.
So the result, you ask? Kid #1 grows up to be a doctor who lacks social skills, emotional intelligence, writing skills, creativity, and adaptability.
Kid #2 grows up to be a doctor who knows science, but has stellar bedside manner, communication skills, and ability to adapt to different situations.
So what’s the problem with Kid #1? Early specialization.
So what’s the big freaking deal with early specialization?
Just like in youth sports, kids are being pushed to specialize too early, especially in the soccer landscape. Kids are picking soccer too early (before age 15) when this is the optimal time to partake in a variety of different movement patterns and hone in on neuromuscular training.
So what’s the alternative to early specialization? Early diversification.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this article, I want to warn you that this will not be a peer-reviewed dissertation with 5 authors who hold phDs.
Funny enough, this article comes from personal experience growing up as a soccer player who played multiple sports, as well as my coaching experience seeing what has served my youth athletes most, both physically and mentally.
So what are the 3 Benefits of Early Diversification?
1. Variety of Movement
Up until pre-adolescence, kids are better off learning a diverse palette of motor skills. Their minds are able to soak in new information and attach this to muscle memory, so they’re better off playing sports that help to build the all around athlete.
Only playing soccer does help to build balance, leg strength, core stability, amongst other things, but another sport that provides a sprinkle of new movement patterns will only help to develop a youth athlete to their potential and ensure they’re not missing out on anything during their development period.
Variety of movement also reduces chance of overuse injury and can help to alleviate pains and aches that come with grow spurts during this phase.
2. Transfer to “Main” Sport
Many parents (and some coaches) are under the impression a kid’s skills will wane when they take time off from their main sport and do another sport.
This couldn’t be more far from the truth.
There are several ways other sports can provide transferrable qualities to the main sport. As an example, a soccer player who plays lacrosse will gain these carryover skills from lacrosse:
– Rotational power (shooting)
– Upper body strength
– 1-v-1 confidence
– Anaerobic endurance
– Shielding in pressure situations
– Quick tactical decision-making
– Dodging, faking, cutting
– Reactive agility
All of these movements are seen in both sports. Which reminds me, as a 13 year old who was playing travel soccer year-round, I made the bold decision to take a summer off from soccer to only play recreational lacrosse. Before you gasp, here’s what happened:
My soccer skills improved tremendously, my overall athleticism skyrocketed, I remained injury-free, and my passion for soccer went up exponentially when I returned in the Fall.
To add to the argument, professional athletes like Tom Brady, Abby Wambach and Johan Cruyff give other sports credit for propelling their professional careers and boosting their love for their main sports.
3. Exposure to Social Situations
Nothing is worse than hanging out with the same people over and over and over again. As a kid, as a college student, an adult even, this can get mundane. We all have our various squads – our colleagues who inspire us professionally, our home girls (or boys) who lift us up spiritually, and our dare devils who push us to go on adventures. If we didn’t have this texture of friendships, we wouldn’t develop the social skills to deal with a variety of different personalities. Plus, we’d all be robotic.
Same for youth sports.
The dynamic of a kid’s soccer team, for example, will be worlds different than the dynamic of his wrestling team. Different scenarios, different personalities, and different interactions. Multiple sports allows kids to blossom into real life humans who can work in a multitude of social situations.
Early diversification, to that end, allows a kid to evolve physically, socially, and mentally. It’s a win-win.