My experience in working and counseling players and families in the way of youth sports has made one fact clear - I do not claim nor do I wish to...
There are many reasons to support children participating in multiple sports over focus on one sport. They are all reasonable and stand to reason that a child a well rounded sporting experience, which leads to happier, successful, and thriving people.
So why do we continue to see “one sport” athletes?
Playing options are greater than ever for young baseball players in today’s world of travel ball, tournament play, and showcases. Young kids are literally “recruited” to play on U-12 teams and often the same child find him or herself on multiple teams, causing physical and emotional stress.
Is this specialization trend good or bad? The answer lies within each athlete.
Highly disciplined athletes would most likely succeed and find joy in a single sport OR multiple sport schedule. In each case time management is paramount in order to maintain high academic standing while participating in the sport or sports of choice.
Not everyone has this skill set.
The challenge lies in the ability to stay motivated during the deep periods of the off-season when the temptation of taking time off is greatest. Successful athletes are able to find the motivation to work on the off sport with energy and focus on short AND long term goals.
Parents and coaches, just because YOU are motivated to have your child/athlete training does not mean that they necessarily feel the same. As stated above dedication and motivation to train is an internal quality. Speeches and pep talks can work in the short term but will not maintain a players drive to workout. Frankly, adults simply cannot be there all of the time to motivate and it is often those “alone” times, as the saying goes, “when no one else is watching” that will provide or deny an athlete from their ultimate athletic greatness. Talk to your athletes and provide them with all the support you can muster then allow them to find their training comfort level on their own. Parents have and will continue having this conversation – after all they are kids and need “reminders” to do their work. But there is a point where the athlete will need to learn how much is necessary to achieve greatness. It is up to us as adults to allow this learning process to play out.
Most coaches worth their salt strongly believe in the baseball atmosphere they present. Not all teams, obviously, have the same approach because of varied personalities and philosophies. Families have the right to review and then select the team of their choosing based on their best judgement. Some families jump from team to team searching for the elusive “perfect” situation – something that may or may not ever come to them. As frustrating as this all too recurring scenario is coaches can only coach the kids they have in front of them. Worrying about “the one that got away” does nothing for team chemistry and can hinder a coaches ability to develop each player on the roster. Equal effort must be given every player on the roster regardless of perceived skill level.
It is probably important to refresh our understanding as to the motivations of young players:
Ages 2-16 – Fun, Sportsmanship, Appreciation, Teamwork and Respect.…Fun is pretty much all that kids want in their young sports lives. Notice that this isn’t “from age 2-8” or “from ages 2-12”. priority should be placed on keeping the game fun well into high school age. As adults we are not helping them if we are placing our own desires, aspirations, and long term goals ahead of the innate desire for children to have fun. Baseball, for example, is a difficult sport to master and at these young ages it can be incredibly easy for a young player to change to another activity in a fit of frustration. As we nurture our children it is important to continue to teach discipline, accountability, and teamwork at all times. When they gain an appreciation and respect for the sport and each other they will understand what it takes to reach elite levels and decide for themselves how much they want to work at the game.
As children enter their teen years coaches should introduce a blend of teaching the game, having fun, and fostering a competitive mindset. This will get them ready for those “pre-college” years where college coaches look for more than just statistics but rather mental make-up. Some kids need to me calmed down at this age because they are overly competitive and less team oriented while others need to learn how to hold themselves to a competitive standard. We want our children to make baseball a “labor of love” when they are older and this can only occur if they love the game first.
The challenge for adults is to teach these life lessons while avoiding the urge to look at batting average, wins and losses, or tournament trophies. We all have gotten a little “loud” at times while rooting for our children – we are human after all. When rooting turns offensive and negative is where offenders need to change for the sake of the children around them.
There is a study I first read while writing a paper toward my Master’s degree. It was from Michigan State University’s Sport Psychology Program and it has had a lasting impact on me and my approach to coaching youth sports. The topic was a phenomenon called “Background Anger”. This is the negative talk one may hear at a sporting event. It is the screaming of fans at players, coaches, officials, or even fans screaming at each other in the stands (we know we have seen this before). And of course there is always the ever present negativity of coaches yelling at players and officials.
The point is that there is a lot of screaming that goes on at sporting events – at all age levels. This revealing study showed that background anger can negatively effect children in attendance at these events, whether in the crowd or on the field of play. And, to further the impact, the study says it effects babies as young as 12 months old!
Think for a moment – the youngest of children in the stands hearing this yelling and screaming are impacted. Reading this caused me to observe the “background anger” at games over the years and it is certainly a real thing. I sometimes wonder when a player decides to stop or take a break whether there was something they heard that just took them down a notch mentally, maybe from a parent or adult at a game who made them doubt their ability – I probably won’t ever know.
Maybe there are deeper reasons than “fatigue” or “burnout” when our children decide to “take a break” from playing. Something to think about.
The motivation for the 16+ athletes are more individualized. As mentioned earlier our goal as parents is to keep our children happy as they formulate their own athletic path. They will then be able to make a well thought out choice about their athletic future beyond high school.
Why risk it? Let’s keep the fun in the game and help our kids keep playing.