Kids enjoy being active. Some kids love to golf, others love GAA and others love Soccer. Multi- sports offer kids multiple avenues to explore. What happens when a nasty injury shatters a kid’s dream to be the next Roy Keane or Katie Taylor? What happens when the child is still developing and this injury persists? Our kids need choices in order to fulfil their hidden potential. This is the primary reason why kids need to be encouraged to take on multiple sports in order for them to find what they are looking for and have choices to fall back on. With choice comes opportunities and this is something any parent or coach should want for their kids. We need to look at the fun element and make sure the ‘elite’ title isn’t viewed as the be all, end all.
There are various examples in Ireland of players who had initially chosen their primary sport, but later ended up starring in another field, quite literally. In the recent past Frankie Dolan, a former Roscommon footballer, is a prime example. The St Brigid’s clubman was a keen Soccer fanatic. His first love was soccer, and as a youngster he made a decision to channel his energy in that area. He was offered trials with Reading, but injury intervened and Dolan came back to play GAA and ended up becoming the finest player of his generation. Dolan made a choice to fall back on GAA. By putting all the eggs in one basket, kids could be denied the opportunities Frankie had. If Dolan had not had the choice to play GAA, Roscommon would have been denied his services and indeed Dolan himself would have missed his opportunity to truly flourish.
Other players have explained how playing multi- sports has been positive in their careers. Sarah Noonan is a prime example in the women’s game, of why multi-sports is beneficial for kids. Sarah is a former Cork GAA footballer and now plays soccer for Shelbourne and for the Republic of Ireland. Noonan played Basketball, Soccer, GAA and took part in Athletics throughout her teens. Noonan herself believes her development was “down to her ability to have numerous skills such as coordination, agility and reading of the game. Soccer is more physical and I would say that GAA is more tactical. Basketball taught me when to attack and when to defend. If the day ever comes where I choose to go back and play GAA, I know that option is there.” Certain sports test kids in different capacities. This is important for their growth and helps them adapt if and when they get to an elite level, later on. Less enjoyment, burnout, injury and regrets are just a few reasons why giving kids options is a necessity.
Parents have a huge role to play. One of the best known tennis players of his era, Roger Federar as professor Roger Epstein explains, “had pulley- parents”. His parents allowed the Swiss star “ have a youth experience full of sport, even at times stopping Federar to specialise in tennis at any earlier age. Epstein explains that “ Not only does early specialization cause increased risk of overuse training and overtraining syndrome, but there may be an opportunity cost for not having a variety of experiences in development.”
Having choice has done no harm for other household names. Jordan Speith is one of the biggest household names in the world of Golf. Professor Wade Gilbert explains that Speith’s parents didn’t force him into becoming specialised in Golf too early. In fact his mom Chris said “He hung up his Golf during Football and baseball season, he was a quarterback and pitcher, 2 pretty big roles. Then he would pick up a golf club again when summer rolled around.” Speith was still able to go on and achieve big things to date. At the age of 22, he became the youngest winner of the US Open in nearly a 100 years. Despite not becoming ‘elite’ or specialised until much later on, Speith has earned millions proving that it is possible for kids to achieve by trying many activities and not being stuck in a box. Multi- sports offers multiple experiences and this all helps in the growth of kids, as people and in the realms of sport.
To get a view from the alternative side of the coin, Gilbert compared the late specialisation of Speith to that of an ‘elite early player. Lydia Ko dedicated herself to Golf from a very young age. “Her parents decided that at 5 years of age she was going to be a golfer. This was supported by her coaches. At 17 she became the youngest number one ranked golfer in either gender and had earned 2 million dollars in each of her first 3 years on tour.” While it is hard to argue with her impressive results other questions should be asked. Was her childhood as fun? Was her dedication to her sport too intense? Studies have shown that kids who take part in multiple activities will have more energy and the likelihood of fatigue is considerably less in comparison to that of ‘elite’ specialised players. The approach adopted by New Zealand is something in Ireland, we should consider. At high school level kids are encouraged to try numerous activities, as this allows them to keep their options open. As the child grows they are in a position to make their own decisions and will have developed to a stage to specialise, given their preference. They can do so without fear of losing face.
With kids we need to look at an overall way of providing them with enough recovery time, so we avoid burning out their love and participation in sport. Having a gap in a season is one way to reduce fatigue and allows kids to take part in other activities, in which they find appealing. It is important to note that all these activities don’t have to be at a high level. As coaches and parents it is important to understand the needs of our kids and to understand the limits at which our kids are involved. We want kids to be happy in sport and keep them involved.
There are many practical challenges for coaches in encouraging participation beyond their team or club, and to effectively coordinate with such organisations to ensure a healthy progression for the children.
At SURPASSPORT, we are passionate about keeping youth involved in sport. Our technology not only connects player and coach, but when the player is involved with another team, our central workload module ensures that all coaches are advised when spikes and schedule conflicts arise, allowing them to plan accordingly. There is no benefit to the teams if the stronger players are over-played, least of all for the player themselves.
For more information or to book a demonstration for your team or club, schedule a call with Adrian Geissel (Founder) on https://sur.ie/adrian
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