August 21st, 2019

Segall Says: Multi-sport athletes need fair treatment

By None on January 18, 2019.

At what age should an athlete choose to specialize in one sport and one sport only? As a child and teenager I was blessed to play several different sports and had coaches who encouraged me to be a multi-sport athlete.

My soccer coach understood when I had to miss a practice because I had a basketball tournament. My basketball coach understood when I had to miss a practice for a cross country meet. My cross country coach understood when I had to miss a weekend run for track provincials.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by coaches who understood the advantages of being a multi-sport athlete. They would ask me how my other sports were going and would celebrate successes with me.

One of those coaches was not as accepting as the rest. I still remember one day perfectly, 18 years later. As soon as I turned three, I was enrolled in dancing and loved it. My parents took home videos of all my dance recitals and even some practices. Watching them now as an adult, I can see how much I loved to dance and how much happiness it brought to me as a child.

For dancing we always took a professional group photo. The dramatic makeup and costumes, looking back, give me a great laugh. Two years in a row I missed the group photo; the third year I couldn’t make it again as I had a soccer tournament that weekend.

I came to dance the Monday after the weekend and was told in front of the entire class that I had to make a decision, dance or soccer. Looking back at this now, it’s quite comical because I played a lot more sports than soccer when I was dancing.

Asking a nine-year-old to make that type of decision in front of their peers was not fair. I can’t remember what I said, I do remember I didn’t verbalize my decision to my instructor but that was the last day I ever went to dance.

Considering I received a five-year scholarship to play soccer, I feel like I made the right decision. But it was decision I should never have had to make at the age of nine.

Research indicates that children who choose to specialize in one sport before the age of 12 are more likely to experience an increase in overuse injuries,burnout, drop-out rates, and a decrease in overall athletic development. The top athletes in the world have a wide range of athletic abilities that they have obtained from playing a variety of sports when they were children. This range does not come from specializing in one sport at an early age. Wayne Gretzky played baseball, lacrosse and tennis as a teenager, not just hockey. Steve Nash didn’t start playing basketball until he was 13 years old. Thirty of the 32 first-round picks in the 2017 NFL draft were multi-sport athletes in high school. Bo Jackson was named to the NFL Pro Bowl and the MLB All-Star game in the same year.

I did not have to choose to specialize in one sport until I was 17 years old, heading to play at a post secondary institution. What age you choose to specialize in one sport is up to you, but please be aware of the disadvantages of specializing in one sport too early.

If you are a coach, be understanding and supportive of your multi-sport athletes. If you are an athlete, ensure you keep your coach up to date on when you can and cannot make it. If you have an outstanding coach who values multi-sport athletes, do not take advantage of them by sending them last-minute messages that you cannot make practice or a game. As a multi-sport athlete, you need to have great time management skills and be able to communicate when you will or will not be there ahead of time not the day of or before.

Kristina Segall is the coordinator of the Alberta Sport Development Centre- Southeast and she would love to hear from you and chat with you about the ASDC-SE programs and services. She can be reached via email at ksegall@mhc.ab.ca and via phone at 403-504-3547.

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