The BLOG: Culture

Letting kids be kids, not specialists

From Tom Brady to Giancarlo Stanton, a growing number of sports superstars are coming out in support of kids — from the youth level to varsity — playing multiple sports instead of dedicating the entire calendar to one sport.

The urge of parents to turn their kids into specialists is an understandable one in theory. We hear stories all the time of athletes who attribute their talent to hard work and hours in the gym. But hard work is a mindset that can be fed on a variety of fields and courts, and diversity is a better formula for success than potentially burning out a specific muscle group or a kid’s love for a sport.

In 2014, the United States Olympic Committee released a report that surveyed nearly 2,000 Olympic athletes on their youth sports backgrounds. The findings were that until the age of 14, the Olympians were playing an average of three sports. They were still playing an average of more than two sports in high school, and even at 22 and over — at the peak of their athletic prowess — they were playing 1.31 sports.

And if that wasn’t enough, 97 percent of the respondents said multi-sport participation directly influenced their success.

The problem with believing one sport specialization is the best path to success, said Changing the Game Project founder John O’Sullivan, “is that it ignores many components of athletic development beyond practice that determine athletic performance, namely genetics, coaching, enjoyment, and intrinsic motivation.”

Exactly. At the end of the day, a person is going to have to have some natural-born gifts, including a never-ending drive to succeed, to make it to the upper echelon of athletes. So why not open a kid’s eyes to a multitude of different sports and experiences at a young age?

“My parents always exposed us to different things, different sports,” Brady said in a WEEI radio appearance. “It was basketball when it was basketball season. It was baseball when it was baseball season. I didn’t play football until I was a freshman in high school. A lot of soccer. There were some camps, but I just played in the neighborhood in our street with all the kids we grew up with.”

And things turned out alright for Brady.

Alex Jankowski

Alex Jankowski

Alex Jankowski is the Web Editor of the NewBostonPost. He spent five years traveling the country as a sports journalist before settling down with his wife in Boston. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ByAlexJankowski.