The Multi-Sport Medicine
Any strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer who works with kids is all too familiar with the concerned, motivated parent asking about the next step in training:
"I think my child needs a bit more agility training."
"So and so needs a faster first step. How about some speed training?"
These situations can be challenging for coaches. Is the child developmentally ready for training? Is there even such a thing as "agility training" for someone that young?
For the record: More times than not an agile child or pre-teen is simply one with more body awareness, heightened fine motor skills, and consistent, full-steam effort in their play. Not to mention the ability and willingness to be a part of a team. None of these things are mutually exclusive to the jumps, hops and skips of an "agility" training session.
But when you begin to over-specialize and focus on such a limited set of skills, it begins to become the equivalent of putting 22 inch rims and a body kit on your kid's first car.
Just look to the elite ranks for some answers:
This graph shows then Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer's recruit statistics in their 2013-2014 class.
In a podcast interview in 2018, Pete Carroll, coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, when asked about recruiting multi-sport athletes, said this:
"The first question I ask was 'What other sports did you play in high school?' And I didn’t just want to know what sports, but what positions. I wanted to know what kind of player they were. If they played right field in little league, you know, sometimes you worry about those guys."
"I’m always looking for centerfielders, shortstops, pitchers and catchers you know. A guard in basketball. When I spoke with [Now NFL Running Back]Christian McCaffrey, the first thing I asked him was 'What sports did you play while growing up? And were you the best at everything you played? Were you the point guard?' Yes, he was. He was everything."
"That tells me more about the makeup of a kid. I want to know, in basketball, what kind of scorer were you? Did you score a lot of points? Were you a re-bounder? Did you drive? Were you an outside shooter? And how much did you win? Or did you not? What were your teams like? All of those background things are more telling for me."
Beyond the physicality and athleticism that playing other sports builds, it gives kids perspective and experience playing a different role on a team as well. Dom Starsia, of University of Virginia men’s lacrosse says this: “My trick question to young campers is always, ‘How do you learn the concepts of team offense in lacrosse or team defense in lacrosse in the off-season, when you’re not playing with your team?’ The answer is by playing basketball, by playing hockey and by playing soccer and those other team games, because many of those principles are exactly the same."
Jump training for an 8 year old can seem almost disingenuous when a simpler, more effective method is to have them play a season of another sport. No sport should be off limits: Karate, swimming, volleyball and gymnastics. Each brings their own degree of skill specificity, team dynamics and character development.
Some parents might see limiting their child to a single sport is a way of protecting them. The data suggests otherwise. As outlined in famed orthopedic surgeon James Andrews' book Any Given Monday, nearly 50 percent of overuse injuries in youth sports are from single sport athletes. A study by Loyola University, found that children who specialized in early childhood were anywhere from 70-93% more likely to be injured than those who played multiple sports.
Jump training for an 8 year old can seem almost disingenuous when a simpler, more effective method is to have them play a season of another sport.
So when you think your 8 year old baseball player needs an edge on the base paths, introduce him to the gridiron or the court. Developing his athletic prowess on a macro-scale will set him up for more creative, efficient and healthy movement when it comes time to perform on his given field of play.
Now, this is not condemning strength training. Strength training should serve as another outlet just like any other to help develop and advance your child's athleticism. But when you begin to over-specialize and focus on such a limited set of skills, it begins to become the equivalent of putting 22 inch rims and a body kit on your kid's first car. Your investment and attention to detail are better served when the car's got an engine, a tank full of gas and they've shown they know how to drive.
Get out there and experiment. No field, class or camp should be off limits. Trust that your fall season soccer player is becoming a better winter time basketball player and that a better golf swing in the spring makes for a better summer time serve. The most important thing is that they get out and PLAY.
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