Why Playing Multiple Sports is Crucial for Long Term Success

How I will parent my athlete as a former MLB player…

My oldest son is approaching the age of select programs and more opportunities for training. He is only 8 years old but there are plenty of options in all ranges of sports. The opportunity to get ahead with year-round training seems to be available in every sport and even other activities.

My son loves sports, especially baseball, and would probably play every day on his own if he could. So I completely understand why year-round opportunities exist for kids who are passionate and intensely motivated to get better from an early age. Here is the question I had to ask myself very early on at BASE by Pros with regards to our curriculum, not only as the owner of a baseball academy but also as a parent: “What will actually benefit my kids in the long term and how can I share these ideas with others?”

Three things I want to make clear in this article:

  1. Generalization, not specialization, has been proven to increase the opportunity for athletes to achieve higher levels of success.
  2. Physical rest from the movements in sports is extremely crucial for athletes’ physical health and longevity.
  3. When they find their FIT it looks like GRIT (stop pushing them to succeed).

I get this question from parents all the time: “What does training look like for college and pro athletes?”

They ask this question with the misconception that getting their athlete a headstart around ages 8-14 will produce a successful outcome for their player. 

The real question parents should consistently ask is, “What did these players at the professional/college level do when they were young athletes?”

I simply answer, “They didn’t specialize.”

The science behind playing multiple sports is staggering. According to Author David Epstein in his book Range, “Right after Germany won the 2014 World Cup, a study of German football players concluded that, compared to lesser players, members of the national team didn’t participate in more organized football than amateur-league players until age twenty-two or later. They spent more of their childhood and adolescence playing nonorganized football while also dabbling in other sports. Another football study published two years later matched players for skill at age eleven and tracked them for two years. Those who participated in more sports and more nonorganized football ‘but not more organized [football] practice/training’, improved more by age thirteen.” 

Rest is crucial for long term health. Ask any weight trainer, physical therapist or doctor and they will always tell you the best medicine for recovery is… REST! …The four-letter word in our world! When is the last time you ran into someone and asked, “What’s new with you?” and they replied with, “Not much going on really. Life is pretty restful.” Almost Never. Life is always BUSY.

Athletes need physical rest from the demands of the sports they play – not just baseball and football, but every single sport! This applies to non-athletic activities also. ESPN Senior Writer Baxter Holmes highlights this epidemic in his blog post ‘The kids are ticking time bombs’: The threat of youth basketball where he states, “A separate 2016 study from Bell and his team found that 36% of high school athletes classified as highly specialized, training in one sport for more than eight months a year — and that those athletes were two to three times more likely to suffer a hip or knee injury.”

As kids grow and mature they are susceptible to injury. 10 years ago an athlete may have been ailing and sore from the season but they typically didn’t pick the sport back up for months, thus allowing their body to recover naturally. Nowadays, with athletes training all year round, recovery is all but non-existent.

Finally, I want to put a sense of peace in your parenting life. It is not your job to motivate your kid! You have to be an example of how you work hard, love what you do, and do the best you can. 

It is not your job to push your kid. Motivation comes from finding something you enjoy and it then looks like the person is committed to it.

I absolutely love the saying “When you find your fit, it looks like grit.”

I love baseball and I always had a great work ethic for baseball. It never felt like work, it just felt like fun. I never felt forced to train or to eat right or to go to sleep on time or sacrifice other things in my life for baseball. It was just a no brainer for me.

As parents, we don’t know what our kids will ultimately find as their fit. And what they are good at now may not ultimately be the thing they want to do later.

Have your tastes, likes, and dislikes changed over the course of your life? Of course! So one of the most dangerous things we can do to our children is limit their ability to try new things, sample and explore. FYI, this shouldn’t ever stop in someone’s life.

Facebook poll for current and former MLB/MiLB players - Did you play multiple sports growing up?
Results of a poll posted to the MLB/MiLB Current/Former Facebook Group

Examples of things I didn’t like as a kid but do now as an adult:

  1. Sushi
  2. Golf
  3. Reading Non-fiction
  4. Jazz
  5. Showering

Our main goal at BASE by Pros is to develop the whole person: Mindset, Skill, Strength, and ultimately Character. A balanced approach based on our Diamond Principles encourages athletes to master their mindsets, grow in skill training, improve physical literacy, and serve others.

Allow your athletes to be kids. Allow them to try lots of things. Let them rest and don’t push them too hard. Always bring attention to times where they should grit in something and always praise hard work, effort and good attitudes.

There is no systematic way to get our kids to be successful in their sports or future vocations. I personally wish there was a very easy ABC approach to this, but in all my research, life experience, and seeing thousands of families come through BASE by Pros, I know that the healthiest and most well-rounded kids and families, are just that: ROUNDED!

EXPLORE, REST, AND FIND THEIR FIT!

For more on some of these themes, check out these books and podcasts!

  1. Podcast #416: The Self-Driven Child
  2. Podcast #512: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Brent Lillibridge


Dream Big, Serve Bigger!
~ Brent Lillibridge

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