We all know one of “those” parents. The one who makes their child shoot 100 free throws every night before dinner or run extra laps after the rest of the team has gone home. The same parent who ensures that their kid is practicing the same sport every night of the week. The parent who thinks their child is destined to be the next All-Star.
This is one of the biggest challenges facing youth sports: sports specialization.
Parents who choose to specialize their athletes at a young age believe it’s necessary to help them develop talents and abilities to get them to a higher level such as collegiate, the Olympics or professional. That’s actually a myth. The truth is that only 2% of kids who play sports in high school receive a college athletic scholarship and only .1% will play professionally1.
Single-sport specialization at an early age has driven a staggering increase in physical and emotional burnout among kids. We believe the better route for kids is sports sampling.
Sports sampling means getting your kids active across multiple sports. This allows them to discover their favorite sport on their own and fall in love with being on the field or court with a team.
In fact, many of the world’s best athletes grew up playing multiple sports. A third of the players taken in the 2016 NFL Draft were three-sport athletes in high school and 7 out of 10 U.S. Olympians grew up as multi-sport athletes.
“Sports sampling is about more than the sport itself,” says Alli Wentzell, Manager of Sports Programming & Education. “Playing multiple sports helps athletes improve overall skills and abilities to make them smarter players and more physically developed.”
Why Sampling Matters
Muscle injuries are one of the biggest dangers with specialization. 50% of youth overuse injuries are caused by specialization and kids who specialize are 70% more likely to be injured over kids who play multiple sports.
“You really want to make sure you’re developing all of your muscles,” says Wentzell. “If you develop one specific muscle from doing the same movement over and over again, you can actually weaken your other muscles.”
Sports sampling helps kids develop multiple muscle groups. If they play a season of soccer they’ll work on lower body muscles. If they play a season of basketball they will focus on their upper body strength. They can try a season of lacrosse and work on eye-hand coordination.
Another danger in sports specialization is the social isolation it can create for kids. Sampling allows for a new set of teammates and potential friends with each new sport and season.
“When you specialize, you’re surrounded by the same people,” says Wentzell. “One of the biggest drivers for kids to play sports is making new friends.”
Another risk with specialization is burnout. Kids with a higher level of performance expectation from too young of an age can lead to a lack of enjoyment of sports overall.
“This can have an impact on the child’s activity level later in life. Burnout from playing sports could lead them to have a less active lifestyle as an adult,” says Wentzell.
When kids are focused on simply having fun, it’s much easier for them to look forward to each week’s game. With i9 Sports’ convenient 1 a day a week model, kids don’t have to feel the pressure of competing non-stop.
How i9 Sports Emphasizes Sports Sampling
Our age-appropriate sports curriculum is actually designed to introduce young athletes to every aspect of a new sport. In the Pee Wee and Junior divisions, kids rotate through all of the positions so they can learn the sport from every angle and find the position that fits them best.
Playing and practicing just one day a week doesn’t require as much commitment for kids and families, so trying a new sport for a season is simple and convenient!
“At most of our venues, we offer multiple sports at the same time so kids can see other sports being played,” says Wentzell. “That can be a way for kids to watch other sports and encourage them to try it because they’ve seen other kids having a good time playing.”
In fact, this month the Aspen Institute announced that i9 Sports has been selected as one of the Project Play Champions for Project Play 2020. The initiative recognizes organizations that make a difference in youth sports and align with the Institute’s vision to build healthy communities through sports. Sports sampling is just one of the many ways to ensure this vision is brought to life.We’re also adding new sports to our offering to provide more options for kids. This fall, we launched ZIP Lacrosse, a 3v3 lacrosse league, that is a great introduction to the sport of lacrosse. A pilot phase of volleyball will begin in the winter, as well.