How Playing Various Sports at a Young Age Can Create Players for Life

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Golf is not the only sport where The First Tee Nine Core Values and The First Tee Nine Healthy Habits can play vital roles. The First Tee encourages participants to engage in healthy lifestyles off the golf course through a variety of ways, including with other sports. 

What is multi-sport play and why does it matter? The First Tee was invited by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play to participate in a round table discussion; “Multi-Sport Play: What’s next?” The United States Tennis Association served as host for 10 National Governing Bodies (NGBs) plus other associated parties.  The reason for convening the NGBs was due in part to a reported 2.6 million youth between the ages of 6 to 12 years old dropping out of sports from 2008 to 2013. These sports include soccer, baseball, football and softball. It is important to note that over a similar time period, the National Golf Foundation has reported that youth golf is up from 2.5 million junior golfers in 2010 to 3.2 million in 2014. multisport 2 Why is youth sports declining? According to parents: 1) risk of injury 2) quality or behaviors of coaches and 3) costs. However the root of the issue cited by parents is early, single sport specialization. For years, research has suggested that sampling sports (playing multiple sports) between the ages of 6 to 12 years old before specializing between ages of 13 to 15 (narrowing down participation to 2 to 3 sports) led to overall increased physical literacy, increased participation and better performance by the athlete. Early, single sport participation eliminates these benefits AND causes negative implications. Why are kids specializing in one sport so early? multisport 11) College athletic scholarships. 2) Elite sport clubs/travel teams. Because college costs are on the rise, parents are looking for funding solutions for their child’s college degree. With increasingly lucrative and competitive environment among college athletics and coaches, college coaches are recruiting athletes at younger ages. In addition, elite sport clubs and travel teams have raised the stakes and costs to participate on a stage where the hope of being discovered by a college coach is being sold. The pull of an athletic scholarship and the push of competitive clubs, coaches and travel teams has accelerated this cycle to where there are now reports of 12-year-olds making verbal commitments to collegiate athletic programs. None of the organizations mentioned above are solely accountable or to blame; each are fulfilling a role and being driven by economic factors. The downside is that young people are dropping out of sports because of pressure, and many more do not participate altogether. So what? Early, single-sport specialization before the age of 12 leads to burnout and quitting sports altogether, increases risk of overuse injuries and a decrease in overall athletic development. With an epidemic of childhood obesity and fewer hours of physical education in schools, now is not the time to be limiting opportunities for youth to enjoy and receive the benefits of participation in sports. For The First Tee chapters, it is important to educate parents and encourage multi-sport play among participants prior to age 12, as well as design program schedules which promote multi-sport play. What’s next?D First and foremost, the National Governing Bodies in youth sport need to collaborate, share best practices and educate each other. Through collaboration we can learn from each other’s proven practices and programs, then develop economic incentive models to cross promote each other’s sports to parents, for the long-term success of our respective sport’s participation but also for the increased enjoyment and performance of the young person. Second, we must educate our respective program leaders and coaches on the benefits of sport sampling and practices to implement that lead to greater participation. Finally, all National Governing Bodies need to provide the same education to parents on the long-term benefits for the health of their child and for overall increased performance of their athlete through cross training. Visit the Aspen Institute to learn more about Project Play and the importance of introducing many sporting opportunities to you child. Written by Ryan Graff, Vice President, Program Development & Delivery at The First Tee home office.