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The Push For Multi Sport Participation

The Push for Multi-Sport Participation

In places like the US and Canada, every Middle and High School student-athlete understands the concept of seasonal sports. You play, you train, and you compete for X weeks, then your season is over. If you have great passion and show substantial promise in the sport, there are a plethora of options to join clubs teams outside your respective season.  You could play all year round if you want.

But should you?

At CIS this academic year, we made the change to seasonal sports, and several parents and athletes have wondered why. Specialization is the only way to ensure the student-athlete becomes the best he/she can be, right? If my child wants to secure a scholarship at university or play professionally, they have to specialize, right? To oversimplify the answer: it depends.

USA Today surveyed tens of thousands of collegiate student-athletes to gather information regarding sport specialization. Conclusions ranged greatly based on the sport, though risks associated with specialization were clearly highlighted.

The first risk associated with specialization is burnout. Nearly every coach or Athletic Director can share a story with you about a gifted student-athlete who left the sport due to a combination of the repetitiveness of training sessions and the external (and internal) expectations that came with a specialization in their sport. 

The second risk is overuse injuries, which was highlighted in a recent New York Times article. Student-athletes who continually use the same sport-specific muscles and movements all year-round are at a higher risk of injury. Dr James Andrews, a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon, collaborated on a book (“Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them, for Athletes, Parents and Coaches — Based on My Life in Sports Medicine”) which outlines the alarming increase in traumatic injuries youth sports today that corresponds with the increase in sport specialization. He estimates that 60% of the student-athletes he now operates on are High School age or younger. Dr Andrews states “I don’t think an epidemic is too strong a word. We’re seeing kids hurt before they even have a chance to become athletes.”

That can point to various professional athletes and make your case for specialization, the data supports the promotion of multi-sport participation. When you factor that less than 7% of High School student-athletes compete at the collegiate level (and less than 2% of those athletes make it to the professional level), grounding your athletics program for the benefit of those 7% makes little sense, especially since those kids may go on to play collegiately anyways.

And while this greatly depends on the sport, some collegiate coaches wholeheartedly believe in the benefits of multi-sport athletes and actively recruit those student-athletes. Urban Meyer, the head coach of the Ohio State (American) Football team, made waves when it was made known that 42 of the team’s 47 new recruits played multiple sports in High School. The New York Times wrote an article detailing two (Ohio State and Clemson) of the nation’s top football programs’ preference in recruiting multi-sport athletes. This was recently reiterated by Christian McCaffrey, running back for the Carolina Panthers and 2019 NFL MVP hopeful, saying “…I think playing (3-4) sports was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

And it’s hard to argue with their results. While specialization may lead to better sport-specific technical skills leading into adolescence, Athletic Directors are pushing (and coaches are actively choosing) multi-sport participation and student-athletes are reaping the benefits: increased likelihood of active adulthood, fewer sport-specific injuries due to overuse, cross-sport skills, and increased social/emotional growth being part of multiple social circles.

But the last and most important point: these are kids. Let me play, have fun, and grow in the process. There are many paths for student-athletes to become the best they can be, and empowering them to choose may be the simplest way to reach that goal.

To learn more about athletics at Canadian International School, a top school in Bangalore, reach out to us at or call 08067594444.

  • Joshua Youngman, Activities Coordinator