1. Fewer overuse injuries. Growing bodies can become overstressed by repetition and that stress can lead to injuries. A lack of rest and recovery time in year-round sports exacerbates the problem. There are plenty of examples of serious, grown-up sports injuries happening to kids at younger and younger ages, from Tommy John surgery for 12-year-olds to high school girls with multiple ACL injuries before they graduate. Studies show that playing multiple sports leads to better muscle, motor and skill development. It promotes general athleticism, balance, speed and agility.
2. Less opportunity for emotional burn-out. Kids who spend so much time focusing on one sport — and whose families are similarly solely focused — risk tiring of the sport all together. Specializing raises expectations, the costs for parents for travel and club teams and the pressure on young athletes. Having a variety of experiences keeps things interesting, the monotony of a single sport goes away, and so does that pressure.
3. Exposure to different kids. Soccer friends will be different from swimming friends, who will be different from the kids in your Tai-Kwon-Do class. Exposing kids to different sports allows them to share teammate experiences and make memories with a diverse group of peers. It helps them expand their social circle and their opportunities for interaction.
4. Exposure to different roles. Being a bench player on the basketball team is a different experience than being a starting pitcher on the baseball team. It’s an opportunity to broaden their experiences, socially and developmentally. It’s an opportunity to become a better competitor and all-around athlete, the kind that coaches value because they are flexible, multi-dimensional, exposed to many situations and coachable.
5. Not putting all your eggs in one basket. Playing only one sport limits your options. An injury, a bad experience with a coach or a reduced role on a more competitive team can bring an abrupt end to an athletic career. Such a small number of high school athletes move on to play a sport in college; even fewer earn an athletic scholarship. If the goal is to play as long as possible, perhaps it makes the most sense to play as many sports as possible? Just ask Derek Jeter, who played basketball in high school, or Elena Delle Donne, who played volleyball at Delaware before returning to the basketball team on the way to the WNBA, or Robert Griffin III, who played baseball and ran track.