Benefits of Multi-Sport Activities in Young Children
September 29, 2021
The Chelsea Piers Aquatics Club, in Stamford, CT, is one of USA Swimming's top 50 clubs Nationwide and has sent swimmers to DI and DII powerhouse programs in addition to National Select Camps, 2017 Junior World Championship Team, 2018 Youth Olympic Games team, US Nationals, and the US National Junior team. Former CP-AC swimmer Kate Douglass recently won a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in the 200M IM.
With that kind of success, you may be surprised to learn that young swimmers on the team aren’t asked to specialize at an early age . Since launching in 2012, the philosophy has been to have a program that is fun, with less unnecessary pressure. One where kids put in the effort because they want to, not because they are forced. Kids are encouraged to explore other sports until they are in high school. The philosophy isn’t unique to the pool at Chelsea Piers, it is shared by all Sport Directors as they focus on developing the whole athlete.
We sat down with coaches from both Chelsea Piers New York and Chelsea Piers Athletic Club in Stamford who work with young athletes just starting out and highly competitive specialized athletes to get their insight on the topic.
Ron Restrepo – Director of Soccer & the Chelsea Piers Soccer Club
“At a young age, sports are like colors. You want to give kids the entire crayon pack and then let them choose the color they like to color with the most.” Coach Ron advises parents to encourage their kids to play as many sports as they can at a young age so that they can foster their own opinions and fall in love with the sport that they enjoy the most. When children are introduced to more than one sport, they are able to learn a variety of different skill sets and then make a decision that is best for them.
Bernard Blanda – Director of Basketball & Chelsea Piers Evolution Travel Team
“Playing multiple sports helps young athletes learn more about their honest abilities physically, mentally, and emotionally.” Coach Bernard points out that not every sport is for every kid. Young athletes who have the chance to play multiple sports allow children the opportunity to develop their natural skills and talents and to find the sports that cultivate those talents. In his experience, he says that parents usually think that specializing in one sport early on or following friends is the best way to go, and sometimes that is true. However, every child is different, and allowing them to participate in more than one sport will ultimately allow them to find their passions and skills.
Tiffany Smith – Director of Gymnastics & Chelsea Piers Gymnastics Team
“I believe that giving children the opportunity to try multiple sports allows them to develop their passion through a broader scope. Many children follow in the footsteps of other family members and may have a natural ability to do something, but they aren’t passionate about it. I like to think of it as trying new foods, you never know what you like until you've tried it.” Coach Tiffany truly believes that introducing little athletes to a variety of sports and activities helps create well-rounded individuals.
David Flower - Co-Director of Chelsea Piers Shoreline Soccer Club
"I am all for multi-sport participation. From what I have seen, the sports played with goals or hoops have very similar movement patterns but play on a different scale." Coach Flower explained. "Sports such as swimming and gymnastics are very different but could be more beneficial for cross-training as they work other muscles and build stamina and strength that are extremely important in soccer but differently." The difference in these sports, he feels, could help reduce overuse injuries. For example, “there isn't the twisting and turning or change of speed in swimming like in soccer, but it's fantastic for stamina and non-load bearing.”
"Playing different sports is also a great way to keep athletes humble. The best player on a team may not be the fastest swimmer or have the best body type for gymnastics or basketball." He believes there is a lot to be gained by not being the best player on a team, and players learn more from "the struggle" than they do when a game comes naturally. He highly recommends our athletes try sports outside of their comfort zone and see where they can find similarities in the sports and trust that "the struggle" will help them as athletes and people.
Ann Roth - Gymnastics Director at Chelsea Piers Athletic Club
"I have witnessed on many accounts the benefits of gymnasts participating in multiple sports. Above all, it helps to create a balance in their life both physically and mentally." Coach Roth explained. For example, she has had many top competitive gymnasts participate in the sport of lacrosse simultaneously with gymnastics. The strength, determination, and persistence they learn in the gym are transferred to the field, making them agile and often stronger than their counterparts with stick handling.
She finds most that athletes are happier when they can choose and experience multiple athletic endeavors. "Athletes grow and mature, their interests change, and we should support and encourage them as they develop into young adults." As a coach and parent, providing opportunities for children to experience physical activity while developing interpersonal and life skills in the process is a WIN she expressed. “We are a culmination of our experiences.”
Amanda Wilkins - Volleyball Director at Chelsea Piers Athletic Club
"Having our youth participate in multiple sports is so much more beneficial than most realize." Coach Wilkins believes. There are so many translatable skills between certain sports, and she finds that her best volleyball players are her best athletes in general. "My best middle hitters a lot of the time are fantastic basketball players. My best servers a lot of the time are great softball players. My multi-sport athletes are typically my most well-rounded athletes." On top of this, she notices less "burnout" from athletes who specialize in one sport at a young age. They are excited to start volleyball in the fall after coming off of summer league basketball and don't feel like they need a break. The excitement and motivation for the sport carry through as they get older, participating in various sports in different seasons.