Encouraging Multi-Sport Participation in Youth Athletics

The appeal of having your child specialize in a specific sport has been ever increasing in recent years. Some of this has been spurned by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers which states that in order to be an expert at an activity one must log at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Many parents encourage their children to specialize early on without the knowledge of the risks that are involved. For some, success in a sport is seen as a channel through which they can advance and potentially earn a scholarship to attend college. Before choosing a specific sport for your child it is imperative to familiarize yourself with the positives and negatives of doing so.

Although the majority of parents know that children should have a balanced exercise and recreational activity regime they frequently set that aside in fear that their child with “fall behind” those that are specializing. As a parent, I completely understand that fear but with the facts shared in this blog I hope to change your mind set. When making the decision for your child to specialize one must take into account the physical, emotional and social costs to children who play a specific sport.


multi-sport youth athletics1. Overuse injuries – Children who specialize in a single sport account for 50% of overuse injuries in young athletes

2. Adult physical inactivity: Children who specialize early on are more likely to become sedentary adults

3. Increased risk of injury: Children who specialize in a sport are 70-93% more likely to be injured than those who participate in multiple sports

4. Burnout: Risk of burnout is increased due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment

5. Female adolescents: Increased risk of anterior knee pain disorders such as patella femoral pain, Osgood Schlatter’s and Sinding-Larsen-Johansson syndrome


1. Better overall skills and ability: Early participation and multiple sports needs a better overall athletic and motor development, longer playing careers, increased ability to transfer sports skills to other sports and increased motivation, and confidence

2. Smarter and more creative players: multi sport participation at the youngest ages of the better decision-making and pattern recognition increase creativity

3. Most college athletes come from the multi-sport background: approximately 88% of college athletes surveyed participated in more than one sport as a child

4. 10,000 hours is not a rule: most elite competitors required for less than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Anders Ericsson, the researcher credited with discovering the 10,000 hour rule, mentioned that certain elements that go in the high-performance were left out of Malcolm Gladwell’s book. Those elements include genetics, coaching, opportunity and luck

5. Free play equals more play: research shows that activities which are intrinsically motivating, maximize fun and provide enjoyment are incredibly important. Deliberate play increases motor skills, emotional ability and creativity

There is something to be said in regards to the old adage: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY CHILDREN SHOULD HAVE FUN. Enjoying their sport of choice usually leads to a happier and healthier lifestyle.

Image above courtesy of nitinut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Philippe Corbanese, PT, DPT has worked in a variety of settings and has treated patients with neurological, orthopedic and sports injuries. These experiences led him to his specialty in sports and orthopedic injuries. For the past five years, he has worked extensively with professional athletes on the US Women’s Rugby team, and the Harlem Wizards as well as collegiate and recreational athletes.