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Should Kids Play Multiple Sports or Focus On One Year-Round?

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Parents often have a hard time understanding the extent and breadth of youth sports that their kids are involved with. As the child progresses the parents get advice from other parents, coaches and sport organizations. At some point most parents’ start questioning the information and seek answers elsewhere.

One of the most common questions is: Should my child play one sport year-round?

This seems like a simple question but the answers are often times conflicting so it depends on who is asked. Sometimes it is hard to get an informed answer from someone who makes a living on training and coaching kids in sports.

In recent years most governing sport bodies have publically stated that playing a variety of sports is beneficial to kids and they trot out examples of professional players who were multiple sport athletes when growing up. The National Governing organizations (like USA Hockey) also operate nearly year around in some fashion or another, and in the absence of official in-season operations, the off- season leagues and camps flourish.

As the players get older, parents find themselves spending all of their free time at rinks, fields, pools or gymnasiums. Kids playing multiple sports shuttle from one to the other, often time getting home late in the evening. Parents become exhausted and bored. Additionally they find that all of these sport activities are very expensive, and take a toll on the family finances in many cases.

Academics who study human development have long stated that kids need to take time off from their sports. Hockey players should hang up their skates for the summer, for example.

So-called “experts” in sport claim that the off-season is different and a time for development.  Many will say the off- season training is necessary to keep up with the other kids. It is even stated that playing other sports is good training for the main sport.

So the message of “take time off and rest” has become take time off and charge full speed ahead into another sport (but also train for your primary sport).

When listening to all of this advice parents need to consider that all of the sport organizations and independent trainers are businesses. They want and need your kids to participate and pay fees.

I believe the real question is: 

What kind of experiences do we want our kids to have as they are growing up?

Well-rounded kids need to have time and opportunity to explore other parts of life besides sports. Too many kids miss scouting and camping experiences. To many families get fractured chasing their kids all over the country for 60-minute games when they could be building lifelong family memories instead. Too many families and kids erroneously think that simply putting in the time, money and effort will result in a professional career in sports.

Sports are fun, and provide many benefits to young people.  However, the saying “all things in moderation” is an aphorism worth following. After high school sports comes college (or, given the high cost of college these days, perhaps work instead), and then the rest of life.  Young people need to experience many areas of life when they are growing up, not just sports.

Sports are terrific in many ways, but so is a summer job, time spent with family and friends, going to an all-around camp for 2 weeks or two months, volunteering and a multitude of other activities that are building blocks for character, perspective, and becoming well-rounded individuals.