The death of the two sport athlete

Editors Note:

*While this isn’t specifically wrestling related, it is an important read. As wrestling grows, parents are more and more inclined to keep their child wrestling year round. While I only have anecdotal evidence to back it up, most of the best wrestlers I have worked with played multiple sports at some time in their life. Those who only wrestled often times were less fluid in their movements, and it became a disadvantage later in their careers. The Eastern European Wrestlers are notorious for taking time off to play soccer, handball, and other sports not related to wrestling. Just a thought…

Tiger Woods did it

So your kid should too…right? Here’s the blueprint:

Step 1: Pick and start one sport at the age of two.

Step 2: Only play and practice that sport.

Step 3: Win amateur championships.

Step 4: Get a college scholarship.

Step 5: Turn pro and make a billion (with a B) dollars.

Little Tiger

Just stop

I’m not advocating this. In fact, I think it’s ludicrous. As a society I fear we’ve gone to the extreme on both spectrums.

On one end, kids don’t do a damn thing. They play video games, check facebook, and watch netflix, never to see the light of day. On the other end, we have wannabe Tiger Woods/MJ/Sidney Crosby/Jordan Burroughs’s who are pigeonholed into one sport at the age of 2.

It doesn’t make sense

Look, I get it. You want your kid to turn pro and make a billion dollars. I do too. The problem is you’re going about it all wrong. It may not seem like it, but you are. I’m here to tell you why.

Generalize, then specialize

At the start of the summer I had 7 athletes move on to Division 1 sports scholarships. All but one had played 2 sports or more during their athletic career. Some even continued to play 2 sports in high school.

Playing 2 sports doesn’t hinder your ability to play the other sport. It helps it. Learning different movement patterns, strengthening different muscle groups, and being in different pressure situations (such as competing in an individual sport vs team sport) will grow your overall athletic ability.

Don’t just take my word for it though; three long term, longitudinal studies in Sweden, Russia, and East Germany have been done on this topic and the multiple sport side won in a landslide. Here were some findings:

* Most of the athletes had a strong multilateral foundation which leads to greater athletic success.
* Most athletes started training at 7 or 8 years of age. During the first few years, all athletes participated in various sports. From 10 to 13, the children also participated in team sports, gymnastics, rowing, and track and field.
* Specialized programs started at ages 14 to 17, without neglecting earlier sports and activities. Best performances were achieved after 5 to 8 years in the specialized sports.
* Athletes who specialized at a much earlier age achieved their best performances at a junior age level (14-17 years). These performances were never duplicated when they became seniors (>18 years). Most who specialized at a young age retired, and/or were unable to reach high levels after 18yrs old.
* Many top-class athletes started to train in an organized environment at the junior level (14-18 years of age). They had never been junior champions or held national records, but at the senior age many of them achieved national- and international-class performances.
* Most athletes considered their success attributable to the multilateral foundation built during childhood and junior age.

Movement is king

I’ve asked some of my colleagues in the industry how many new athletes walk in their door without the knowledge of how to change direction, jump, land, or decelerate. The answer is astounding. Sadly, I’ve seen it first hand, and it’s not pretty.

If the best in the world still have trouble landing, don’t you think we should teach youth athletes?

When athletes are put on the “fast track” to athletic success by becoming a one-sport athlete, their technical skill level goes up with a general disregard to basic movement drills and instruction (not always the case IF you can find a good sport coach). Eventually, this will catch up to them. It may be in the form of injury, or it may be in the form of a superior athlete beating them in speed, quickness, strength, and conditioning.

By participating in multiple sports (and hopefully having a qualified sports/performance coach to teach them well), athletes will be exposed to a large amount of movements that will pay off huge in the coming years.

Here’s how you should structure your athletes’ career:

Build a base first
General THEN Specific

Prevent burnout and injury

Playing a sport 12 months a year may sound fun initially, but it gets old. Off-seasons are there for a reason. Not just for the physical, but also the mental recovery from the rigorous season. Playing two sports combats this. Not only does it teach new movements, it also breaks up the monotony of the previous sport, and keeps things fresh.

The last thing you want is to have a great athlete with a full ride who wants to quit, or even worse, gets injured due to not taking any time off. It’s imperative for both their mental and physical well being.

In fact, Dr. James Andrews recently had this to say:

PD: Why the spike in youth injuries?

J.A.: Multiple factors, but two stand out: specialization and what we call professionalism.

Specialization leads to playing the sport year-round. That means not only an increase in risk factors for traumatic injuries but a sky-high increase in overuse injuries. Almost half of sports injuries in adolescents stem from overuse.

Which brings me to my next point…

11 year old’s don’t get college scholarships

Let me say that again…

[Tweet “11 year olds don’t get college scholarships.”]

You need to recognize this and understand it. Middle school national champions get trophies, high school national champions get college paid for. I don’t know about you, but I’m choosing the latter.

While playing multiple sports will probably not fast track you to middle school stardom, it WILL lay the foundation for success later on in your career…when it matters.

The best agree

Tucked away in a small building in Russia is the home of one of the best women’s tennis programs in the world that has achieved more international top 20 finishes than the entire USA over a three year span. Here’s an excerpt of an article chronicling them:

If Preobrazhenskaya’s approach were boiled down to one word (and it frequently was), that word would be tekhnika — technique. This is enforced by iron decree: none of her students are permitted to play in a tournament for the first three years of study. It’s a notion that I don’t imagine would fly with American parents, but none of the Russian parents questioned it for a second. “Technique is everything,” Preobrazhenskaya told me later, smacking a table with Khrushchev-like emphasis, causing me to jump and reconsider my twinkly-grandma impression of her. “If you begin playing without technique, it is big mistake. Big, big mistake!

The Little Group proceeded to hustle energetically through a 15-minute set of calisthenics worthy of Jack LaLanne: jumping jacks, hops, crab walking, bear walking, skipping, sidestepping, zigzagging through a line of orange cones. All the motions,” Preobrazhenskaya would tell me. “It is important to do everything, every practice.

Technique, movement. It’s that important.

Now what?

If you read this and agree, that doesn’t mean you need to sign up your kid for 8 sports. Start slowly, build up. There’s no “right way”.

Lateral movement, horizontal and vertical jumping, sprinting, changing direction, backpedaling, etc…those are all movements you want to expose your child to. Choose sports that complement each other. And, if you feel like you just can’t get away from being a one sport athlete, look for a qualified strength and performance coach who will make sure your athlete learns as many movements as possible. If you need help, you can find a great one here.

Introduce your child to as many movements and sports as possible at a young age. It will help, and they will get better. Even Blake Griffin agrees.


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