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5 Reasons Young Athletes Shouldn’t Specialize In Only One Sport

Your kid enjoys playing baseball. You start to notice they’re good at it. Then you realize they’re really good — like Bryce Harper and Bill Mazeroski had a baby, and they gave it to you. Maybe not that talented (or graphic), but still, there’s not doubt your little ballplayer is gifted. The best move is to find some camps and coaches to nurture the shit out of it right? Well, it’s not that simple. Even if you think your kid could go pro tomorrow, wearing multiple uniforms is still key to good athletic development.

Ben Oliva, Mental Performance Coach at SportStrata who has worked with everyone from BU athletes to Boston Red Sox players, says all kids — not just phenoms — need to diversify their sports portfolio. First, playing a single game will likely turn their favorite past-time into their least favorite after a few years. Second, and more importantly, playing multiple sports is essential to transforming their awkward little bodies into slightly less awkward bodies. Here’s why cross-training for kids is essential.

One Sport Affects Another

To borrow a term from cannabinoid research (that’s weed science), sports have an entourage effect — they enhance one another when consumed together. That’s why kids need to develop tons of different skills in a variety of different activities in order to reach their potential in a given sport. It bolsters spatial location, object control, and stability, “fundamental motor skills that if you don’t develop before 12 or 15, you’ll never reach the level you need to in specialized motor skills,” says Oliva.

What’s more, the younger you are, the more likely overuse injuries will occur. “There’s no advantage to this in terms of motor development,” he says. “You’re not going to learn advanced skills in a prepubescent body that translate to the body you develop post-puberty,” Put that in your Little League World Series trophy cup and smoke it.

Recovery Is Where You Get Better And Stronger

Think of how your parenting improves when you drop your kid off at Grandma’s for a week. You’re much better after some time off, right? Like overworked parents, athletes need rest too. Even child athletes. “When kids are developing, the need for recovery is crucial,” says Oliva. “Their ligaments and joint connections are not prepared to take the stress that a grown body or a professional athlete is able to take.” Playing and practicing the same sports without peppering in others deprives the body of adequate rest.

Make Them Do Things They Suck At

Being a star your during your childhood leads to adult onset Weird Child Actor disease. It can be a similar deal for kids who specialize too much in the sport in which they excel. “The skills you develop playing sports are life skills,” says Oliva. These are things like work ethic, focusing on the process, and communication. “If you just focus on the sport where you’re the best player, you’re not going to gain the social and emotional skills that are important for life. That’s why people hire people who played team sports.” Partaking in several sports gives your kid the opportunity to see how different coaches coach, how different teammates interact and how to be a part of a team, regardless if they’re the star or a bench-warmer. Remember: Weird Child Actor disease.

The Sports Development Pipeline Is A Myth

“There’s a lot of pressure to have the perfect tennis serve by age 12 so that you’re in the pipeline to get noticed by coaches.” Problem is, per Oliva, that’s a load of malarkey. Most college coaches he’s talked to are looking for well-rounded athletes with good social skills who are passionate about the sport they choose to pursue in college. Not even a perfect swing and a childhood of practice will ensure your kid always keeps progressing. “What you need to get to the next level is a lot of drive and determination once you’re in a fully developed body,” he says.

Be The Best … Later

Even if you push your kid to specialize in a sport, because in the end they’ll be more successful, what message does that send? “You’re saying that what matters is that you win the game, that you’re the best player,” says Oliva. “By sending that message, you’re hurting your child’s ability and the likelihood they’ll believe that if they practice hard in college they can move on to the next level.” Yes, being the proud father at the youth nationals is cool. But,  being the proud father at the World Series 10 year from now? Definitely cooler.