Dawn Bumgardner

Dawn Bumgardner (pictured above) is a Marketing Assistant with Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services in Elbow Lake, Minnesota.

(undated) -- Some of our best memories as adolescents may have been participating in sports; winning the championship game, spending time with friends or simply playing a pick-up game with the neighborhood kids.

I couldn’t wait to play golf in the summer and hockey in the winter. It appears that the newest trend for young athletes is sport specialization, year-round same sport participation such as winter soccer or summer hockey. Is there more pressure for young athletes to rise to the top in one sport? Is there a fear that young athletes will fall behind and not make the elite teams or a future professional career? Contrary to this belief, there is scientific evidence that multi-sport participation is more beneficial for young athletes than single sport specialization.

Studies have indicated that multi-sport participation as young children, ages 6-12, has been shown to reduce risk of injury and enhance motor skills. This is because it forces our bodies to use more muscle groups and challenges coordination. Our bodies get used to the routine and repetition of the same sport, thus increasing risk of injuries. Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University studied 1200 youth athletes and found those who specialized in one sport were, "70 to 93 percent more likely to be injured than those who participated in multiple sports." 

Accompanying sports, play beyond organized sports also has benefits beyond physical activity; it raises self-esteem, reduces depression and burnout, increases academic performance and instills self-discipline. When kids participate in deliberate, unorganized play, it has been shown to promote creativity and increased decision-making when participating in team sports.

Head football coach at the Ohio State University, Urban Meyer demonstrated the value of multi-sport participation showing 42 out of 47 football players were multi-sport athletes. A 2014 ESPN survey of 128 current and past NFL quarterbacks found that 95 percent had participated in at least two sports in high school; and that 70 percent had participated in three or more sports in school. Teresa McEntire noted in an article for the web site, Families.com: "The best medically, scientifically and psychologically recommended way to develop such all around athleticism is ample free play and multiple sport participation as a child."

McEntire went on to emphasize that: "by playing multiple sports early and increasing athletic ability, kids are better able to meet the demands at higher levels of play. They are more likely to strive through struggles to become an elite athlete and perform at the highest level," McEntire concluded.  

The Journal of Sports Sciences published a study that found athletes who played in three sports between the ages of 11-15 years were, "significantly more likely to compete at a national level, compared with club standard between the ages of 16 and 18 than those who practiced only one sport."

In summary, encourage your child to try multiple sports and find sports that are best suited for their abilities. Support and create an environment that offers the best chance for success and help them strive to be their best. Most importantly, HAVE FUN and enjoy youth sports at its finest. Young athletes will gain perseverance while having fun and creating memories that last a lifetime.

Dawn Bumgardner is a Marketing Assistant with Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services in Elbow Lake, MN. Dawn can be reached at dbumgardner@prairiehealth.org.