Who’s to Blame for the Decline in Multi-Sport Athletes in Youth Sports?

In Learn
By Alex Flanagan | January 9, 2017
multi-sport athletes

Who’s to Blame for the Decline in Multi-Sport Athletes in Youth Sports?

(By Guest Contributor: Amy Carney)

“I want the multi-sport guy,” Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney recently told the New York Times about the kind of kid he likes to recruit. “I just love that,” said Swinney to writer Karen Crause.  Afterall  he was himself a three-sport athlete at Pelham High in Alabama and his Clemson roster is filled with multi-sport athletes.

 I know my kids are supposed to play more than one sport.  But would Dabo Swinney or anyone else mind telling me how?

There’s nothing my husband, who played 18 years in the NHL, and I would love more than to see our children letter in three different high school sports that they love playing. Just like athletes used to be able to do back in our day. The problem is, in today’s youth sports culture that reality doesn’t exist anymore and we shouldn’t blame the parents. Or all of us, anyway. 

The problem is youth club coaches and high school coaches don’t support multi-sport athletes. And the parents get stuck in the middle drinking their Kool-Aid. Doctors are against specializing in one sport, professional athletes advise against it and college coaches say they want to recruit multi-sport athletes, but if our child isn’t allowed that opportunity, then what are we to do?

Our daughter has played club soccer since the league was open to her at 6 years old. This year she got moved down because “she does other things,” an exact quote from her club team coach. AKA she plays 8 weeks of middle school basketball while on a club soccer team.


And the year before that she tried a season of lacrosse in conjunction with her soccer for a short time. Her coach at that time told us that she was going to need to be “more committed” if she was going to be a soccer player. The amazing thing is our 12-year-old maybe missed an hour or two of soccer practice a week to do these other sports. Just the fact that they viewed her as uncommitted because she wasn’t solely playing soccer for 8 months straight is outrageous.

The family willing to juggle multi-sports for their child is actually more committed than the one sticking themselves and their child on the same field, with the same team all year round.

What happened to youth coaches supporting their players’ athleticism?

We’ve juggled hockey, baseball and basketball teams for two of our sons every year. Our sons wouldn’t have been able to do this without the right coaches. Our freshmen sons have now had to make a choice in their athletics. The high school baseball coach told me at freshman orientation that he doesn’t like his guys playing basketball. His reasoning is that the seasons collide a bit and he doesn’t like what basketball does to their arm.

This is what our high school athletes are up against. Club organizations that don’t allow their players to play on their high school sports teams. High school coaches who deter kids from playing another sport besides their own.


We encouraged our son to still try out for basketball if he really wanted to play. He’s in the middle of that season now. My husband believes that a coach will take the best athletes for his team, end of story. We’ll see. Other parents decided to heed the baseball coaches’ advice and quit basketball altogether, even though their sons love playing both.

A high school coach should encourage and support each student athlete to be their best in whatever they choose to do. If they have a player who is capable of making two or three different school sports teams, why would they ever discourage that?

Please stop blaming the parents for this specialized sports craze and perhaps turn the conversation toward these coaches, teams and organizations that are hindering our children by not allowing them to be these multi-sport athletes everyone keeps telling us they should be.

Amy CarneyAmy Carney is a former sports journalist and editor. She writes on her blog www.amycarney.com as well as for various online and print outlets about intentional parenting and family travel. Amy and her veteran NHL husband, Keith Carney, are raising their teenage triplets sons and a tween daughter to be multi-sport athletes in today’s specialized world of youth sports.


  1. She missed 2 hours a week soccer practice. How many hours a week does the team practice? If she is missing 50% of the practices, is that playing? Is you child actually a multi sport athlete if the don’t fully commit to both?
    Please tell the coach how to explain to the child who is there every practice or the child on the b team why they can’t play because your daughter is now present?
    It is very possible to be a multi sport child. However, doctors are actually against players playing 2 sports at ONE time. Basketball and fast pitch? Sure..they are different seasons. Playing 2 sports in the same season is detrimental to youth athletes. And it certainly isn’t fair to the kids who are there 100% of the time to lose hard earned playing time to someone who would rather do something else. Coaches have to reward committment.
    Was the soccer team better or worse not having your kid at practice? Was your kid better?

    • Exactly. Why should a “multi sport” child get special treatment , and be allowed to have the same playing time etc, when they miss the practice and skill work that others attend. Being a multi sport athlete is hard, but only occurs successfully if they do the SAME practices and off season work that the others on the team do. They do not deserve special treatment.

  2. Two pieces to this insanity that need to be looked at are finding the right club/coach that supports the athletes choice to play another sport in the “off-season”. We have always operated under the notion that the in-season sport takes precedence. It is the 1st question I ask every club coach: “What will happen in the spring when my daughter misses weekday soccer practices for a softball game?” Same goes with fall softball games/practices that interfere with soccer.
    Playing club and rec at the same time, and giving the club all the attention, just showing up to rec whenever you can.
    The point is, kids are playing ALL sports year round. They are not just multi-sport athletes they are multi-sport athletes during ONE season. AAU basketball goes on all the time, there are indoor facilities that host softball/baseball/soccer tournaments all winter long. There is no break and no coach wants to be the one that always has the missing kids.
    This is on all of us, parents, coaches, and even the kids. The word NO is a good one to hear. There is no having it all and choices have to be made.
    I am all about the multisport athlete, I was one, my husband was, and we have three kids balancing more than one sport each. Sometimes you have to say no, take a deep breath and know that you have not damaged their chances and future greatness, you just may have taught them how to prioritize.

  3. I think the real driver is the money the club/select coaches are making these days…they need year round income so they of course want kids who will pay dues and private lesson fees year round. As a parent you worry you are closing doors for your kids if you “just say no” to the next season, but keep perspective on what is really driving the coaches which in many cases is that this is how they earn a living.

  4. I disagree. As a parent you bear ultimate responsibility for you children. I’ve been in this exact situation. If a coach demands year round commitment we look for other options. I don’t worry about the high school coaches. If I ran into a high school coach discouraging playing other sports I’d be in the AD’s office tomorrow. The science is there. Less injuries for multi sport vs year round. I have two multi sport high school athletes and a 3rd child in 7th grade. Football, basketball & baseball. Also field hockey, basketball & lacrosse. They both also play for club / travel teams in the offseason and summer. Requires a lot of juggling I admit. We look for programs that are flexible and understanding in the commitment required. In my experience the better programs have no problem with you trying or playing other sports. Our teams generally roster extra players so they are never short. Everyone understands and doesn’t expect to play all the time. But since we are almost all involved in other activities it hasn’t been a problem. In my experience it’s the parents drinking the club coach kool aid of “You need to play year round to get a college scholarship.” Amazing how few parents know anything about playing a sport in college. Or even try to find out. And how many parents will gladly drop $5k+ a year on club teams, travel, training, etc for eight years or more rather than putting those same $’s into an education IRA, 529 plan, etc.

  5. It’s a vicious circle, but the parents are to blame. When I took over a Squirt team last May, I told everyone that practices weren’t going to start until mid-August and we would not play in summer tournaments. Oh my gosh, the complaints the Board got and I finally received a call pretty much letting me know that “I needed to listen to my customers” and those customers come back because we take hockey seriously and we can’t win if you don’t have a leg up on the other organizations!!! So we started practicing; I did not “punish” players who did not take part to all practices until October-November, but many parents complained. Needless to say, I am no longer coaching. And as a parent, my kids are sadly staying out of sports. When they try a new sport, they’re usually not that good, and other parents/kids aren’t shy to let them know that they hurt the team’s chances to win…

    • I agree completely Pascal! I am a soccer coach and I just had a parent of my team share this explaining she was grateful of how understanding her kids coaches were…okay great. But then one parent replied saying she blames the sport, and what happened to sports just taking place over one season. So when I suggested to this parent that maybe we shouldn’t do an indoor season (which FYI I do not get paid to do), she insisted that we must because otherwise the kids will be at a disadvantage come Spring. Soooo after reading this and getting the feedback from other coaches/parents and reading these comments, I have to push the blame to the parents. I would have been quite okay with having a winter break in between our fall and springs seasons but if we had done this, I know we would’ve got complaints from the parents. This is definitely more of an American thing, imo, as I’m originally from the UK and never had to worry that my team wasn’t training enough. They were happy to take a short break through the winter and continue the season in the spring.

  6. My son is a multi sport athlete. He loves sports and a natural athlete. He participates in 3 high school sports (soccer, wrestling and golf) and still managed to squeeze in spring travel soccer and post season wrestling all by his choice. As parents we encourage him to participate in how many that he wants as long as his academics don’t suffer. He has been a 2 time All Star soccer player, a sectional runner up wrestler, and golf state qualifier. We have traveled all over as a family enjoying different experiences, and meeting new people. He has been accepted at several colleges and has settled on playing soccer while in college. He never would have had the variety of experiences if he had played only one sport. While he was in youth programs, we encouraged him to try different sports to see what he liked, enjoyed and had fun at. It has been an amazing journey, and I would not do anything different. Oh yeah, did I mention he has also has ADD!

  7. My 8th daughter is a multi-sport athlete and I wouldn’t have it any other way simply because its what SHE wants to do: softball and volleyball. She has played softball since 8U, and started volleyball at 7th grade. Initially I wasn’t sure how this would work out but overall it has been pretty good. She plays club for both and school ball for both. What we’ve found is that in 7th grade her volleyball peacefully coexisted with school softball, but come 8th grade volleyball has taken a back seat to HS softball (you can play HS ball in SC as a middle schooler). This is due to conflicting practice schedules for club volleyball and HS softball. Her HS softball coach isn’t allowing any missed practices so she is missing club volleyball practices. She has been benched mostly on the first match of volleyball tournaments due to missing volleyball practices which I fully understand, and then plays full rotation after that for the most part. It isn’t ideal but it is what it is. She has made the best of the situation and doesn’t let it get her down.

    My daughter loves both sports and wants to play both and I fully intend on allowing her that so long as her grades don’t suffer. Volleyball is coming to an end for the season Apr 8th for her club team at which point all she will have is HS softball and club softball. She’ll be in club softball all the way through summer and up to about Nov so a lot of ball this season. Again, she loves it and I’ll support her as much as I can.

    This coming year as a 9th grader I think that she is going to have to make a choice, particularly spring when HS softball and club volleyball occupy the same season. I see her leaning towards volleyball right now but it is hard to say what she will do. Given that she wants to play much higher level club volleyball HS softball may have to give. I think what helps is that the choice is hers and hers alone. At 14 she is a confident ball player in both sports and moving forward she has to start making hard choices to prepare her for her future outside of school when you certainly can’t have it all. but again, and I tell her all the time, this is HER sport, not mine. If she decided today to not play either after the seasons were complete I’d support that decision. I see her deciding on playing club volleyball over HS softball, because even though she has played it only 2 seasons now, she has gotten REALLY good at it, and I think her experience as a softball player has a lot to do with that.

    One thing I’ll agree with is that some coaches discourage mutisport, while other encourage it. In my experience with my 2 boys who both played football and wrestled, and now my daughter, is that all of them were better overall athletes as a result of playing more than one sport, and didn’t exhibit burnout. My daughter especially benefited from the 2 sports so far. Her hand eye coordination for both has improved significantly and her movement on the field/court has as well. Both her volleyball and softball coaches have noticed a marked improvement in both games as a result, and so has she, which I think contributes to her drive to continue with both, and helps her succeed as a team mate and person. Her HS coach told me he’d always take a girls with lower talent who was coachable over a girl with higher talent that was hard to coach.


  8. College recruiting is an industry. I’m a fan of high school sports, I don’t watch pro or big-time college anymore for many reason, but for the sake of this article I’m not a fan of the money or politics in those levels. It’s a natural thing for a parent to coach to tell a kid to focus on one sport if scouts have expressed interest in that kid. Does it make it right? It depends on what you want for that kid. If you’re the kind of parent who wants to chase his dream of playing at a D-I school or the pros, I’m in no position to tell you how to raise your kids. But if you understand the reality that most athletes won’t play organized sports after graduation, that their odds of being a doctor or lawyer are greater than being a pro athlete, and if they realize that sports are recreation and not their whole lives, they’ll likely play several sports and enjoy their experience as a teenager. A coach might think such a kid is just a lazy, unfocused teenager, but such a coach is only considering life through his team and the sport they play, not turning kids into well-rounded adults. By all means, if you have that once-in-a-generation athlete on your team, the one that’s a can’t-miss phenom who has greatness written all over him, encourage him to focus on the one sport if that’s what he wants to do; for the 95+% of kids who aren’t being actively recruited, let them be kids, let them enjoy sports to their fullest while they’re available and affordable and their bodies can handle it, and don’t fill them with false hope.

  9. I get sick and tired of the politics, that comes into kids sports. Well “lets pick him because his dad does this” or “I’m friends with the family, so I pick him up” the only ones who suffer are the kids, and it’s disgusting, especially when you know that your child is better than the kid that was picked.

  10. I can understand the problem if the multi-sports are utilizing the same muscle groups and you might be worried about over-stressing and increasing the risk for injury – say a baseball pitcher and also a football QB. Other than that, there shouldn’t be a concern about doing something like pitching and then playing wide receiver or another position.

    My kid plays travel baseball and also for the middle school team. Both coaches have always been informed of the positions that are being played, amount of time, and pitch counts. The travel team understands that school ball may cut into weekly practice, but also that he is still receiving instruction and reps that will make him a better player for the weekend games.

  11. My husband coached high school spots for 29 years and our kids played through high school. There was one glaring problem that showed itself over and over…coaches got possessive of their players, often “punishing” those players who came in late from another sport because of playoffs, or even “punishing” players who were busy playing another sport and could not participate in off-season workouts in another sport. Coaches need to let go just as much as parents, let the kids play multiple sports without scolding them, or “punishing” them if a season goes into post-season.

    • Youth Sports, this is exactly right. Most youth sports have become extremely competitive. You simply cannot compete at an elite competitive level and play multiple sports. At least not competitively. You might get away with doing a recreational sport part time.

  12. I like this article – I like the tone and the ideas… but the reality is the responsibility *is* the parents in the end. Parents enable the activity through their own ignorance.

    We as parents forget too easily that these are not little adults, they are children and while we marvel at their ability to stay up until 3AM and get up at 7AM like nothing happened last night, there are stark realities that go from running kids ragged and hard along whether we are pushing them into one sport all the time or dragging to two sports plus a club activity… kids need down time, they need time to do “something else” — whatever that might be.

    She make excellent points that kids need variety, that doctors say one sport only is not as good as multi-sports — but the onus lies in your living room, not in gym.

    If parents simply refuse to allow their children to be treated like professional athletes at age 10, the coaches will have little choice in the matter. Coaches do not own your children, you do. Take the time to understand what turning your child into a child athlete means… they are a child first, a student second and an athlete after that.

    • I agree . We as parents have to be in control. My son is a freshman in high school and he is a three sport athlete.,very rare in our community. Has he suffered the consequences of less playing time from some coaches? He sure has , but he handles it with grace. My husband and I are not raising a superstar, we are raising a student athlete who likes being part of a team . So as long as he keeps up his grades I hope he can continue being a multi sport athlete.
      Parents need to understand that their child doesn’t have to be the best at every sport, they need to enjoy themselves.

  13. I think it is the non-athlete parents who don’t know, and simply succumb to the pressure put on by clubs, who are constantly trying to get more money out of your wallet for extra training and specialized programs. The clubs are competing for your money and making it a year round sport, while good for business, is ruining the sport experience for youth.

  14. I’m in an odd situation- I coach my daughter’s high school basketball team and her club volleyball team. She wants to do both and our school is trying to create a culture where this works. The fight I see most is club coaches don’t want to bend. We can figure it out and all work together for the betterment of our kids. Our programs will benefit in the process.

  15. The problem often stems from a conflict between high school and club sports. Club sports tend to have a much longer season and often overlap 2 or even all 3 high school seasons. I would always tell my high school athletes that they should always attend a game in one sport over a practice in another…and if 2 practices conflicted, then that should be shared as well..either miss an hour of one to get an hour of the other one in, or simply miss one of mine to attend the other one, and change around the next time it occurred. Now, of course, this would require cooperation from the other coach, but if you have good parents who you have talked to about this situation, then they can make it pretty clear with the other coach how this is going to work. If your son/daughter is an important player on both teams, or even not a star, it is likely the coaches will cooperate….if one does not, well that is unfortunate of all…there are certainly coaches around who will. Yes, it is nice to have all kids at all the practices, but there are always kids missing for reasons other than sports (sickness, holidays, school commitments, etc) and we somehow manage to survive!
    There are so many examples of professional athletes who participated in 3 sports who did not specialize until after high school. Avoided burnout and overuse and lead to a good career.
    The other thing that is not often mentioned, is that many kids/parents, often due to coaches pressuring them, actually choose the wrong sport to specialize in. Their body types and athletic ability would actually make them a better athlete in another sport, with a possibility of going on in that sport….but they gave it up far too soon….so the coach could field a more polished under 14 team!

  16. My daughter chooses to only play soccer, but it isn’t the only interest she has. She draws and paints, and has recently taken up breakdancing.
    She had made an informed decision about her sport, but it’s partly because her soccer coach supports the girls playing other sports, as long as “you give this team what you give your other teams.”
    Maybe this has already been said, but adults’ fixation on winning is public enemy #1. Too often, youth sports are about OUR egos, not our kids’ growth and enjoyment. If we can actually start putting the need to win at all costs aside, our kids win. And actually that translates to more success on the field.

  17. Good stuff…but instead of blaming coach or parents, the most dangerous is the parent-coach who believes in this stuff. They’re the most dangerous. They coach these kids at 7 or 8 years old, and other parents don’t know any better. It breeds this dangerous culture.

  18. Its easy for Dabo to say he likes multi sport athletes as he is recruiting from the cream of the crop D1 athletes. Most kids that want to play in college play D2 or D3, they are in a position where they have to focus on 1 sport or risk losing their opportunity to play in college to a more committed player. Parents know this and while we all hate it we buy into it.

    • I disagree. I know this is one example, but I coached a club team and every one of those kids played multiple sports. Half went on to play a sport in college. Some not the sport I was coaching. In the recruiting process for my son, EVERY coach asked, “What do you do in the Fall? What do you do in the Winter?” Clubs are ABSOLUTELY trying to prevent the multi-sport athlete and maximize their own money making “Scams.” What ever happened to playing because you love it and not because your parents or the club NEEDS you?

  19. I’m actually going to go against the grain on this. I’m a Soccer Coach and I have no problem with a player doing various sports until they’re around 14 then I insist that any player who wants to be on a team I coach picks one sport even if that isn’t Soccer. I cannot for the life of me undsrstand why Americans want their kids to do so many activities????
    Quoting all the contributors on here who proudly state that their child is a ‘three sport athlete’ is baffling, to me it says that you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none.
    I have a player whose parent informs me they are doing gymnastics in the winter so won’t make any of my indoor practices then in speing when the season starts, they’re going to be playing High School Lacrosse and won’t make many practices again but will be available for games. Am I supposed to just put up with this and admire the fact the player is doing far too much?
    Do you think that player is ever going to start a game? I doubt it. But I guarantee that parent will be tbe first to complain when they don’t get enough time on the field.
    In their late teens I do not want the players getting hurt playing another sport meaning they can’t play for the club, I have taken too many calls from parents during High School sports seasons telling me that their child has sustained an injury that’ll keep them out of Soccer for 6 to 8 months, all due to over commitment and misplaced faith in a highly flawed, parent driven system. If I was a college coach I wouldn’t want an all round ‘Athlete’, I want players with the best skills to perform at the highest level in that sport.
    The worst of it is when you see young kids rushing from venue to venue to play this sport or that and they never het the time to be a kid!

    • So kids should choose by age 14? That is crazy! Kids are still growing, changing and looking for new things! Sports are supposed to be fun & good for the kids. Sports are NOT supposed to be a job! Also the over use injury rate for sport specific youth is gaining epidemic proportions! I do agree kids should not be running from one practice to another. We need to stand up & let the kids be kids & not mini-professional athletes!

  20. Initial reaction to this article is respect for the viewpoints of the author but completely disagree. As a few others have pointed out the choices are that of the parents as to which teams and sports to participate in/on. The situation of playing for a coach that is seen as unreasonable is easily dealt with – don’t play for that coach. Another option that is commonly forgot is take the jump – setup your own team. In all, it would just seem the article is about blaming the system or the coaches or anyone except the parents who made the choice for their player to play on a team that has a coach that doesn’t agree with multi-sport athletes. In that we are discussing sports it is tough for me to place much blame on others. It seems like we want our kids to play sports to learn so many valuable lessons but when those lessons come home to roost for our own kid we seemingly turn into victims. Those lessons are important (dealing with tough coaches, i.e. Bosses; etc) and it would seem that we shouldn’t run from them and blame someone.

  21. I say bs…..grow up and be a parent that knows right from wrong! You want your kid to play three sports than do it! Don’t blame the system or others. Sign your kid up and let them have fun at whatever level. Sports are about teamwork fun and exercise so make it that not what “the kool aide the coaches are selling”

  22. This thing has been going on for years. My youngest son is 39 when he was ten he was playing select soccer in Michigan. He wanted to play football and soccer but his soccer coach didn’t want him to play football. I told the coach he is my son and will play both period. So it is up to the parents to stand up to these self serving coaches and then it would stop. Talk to other parents and stick together. It is a huge advantage to play many sports, It makes you a better athletes. To me it’s like weight lifting with only one arm. That is the only arm that will get stronger. Using your body in many sports builds your complete body and your confidence.

  23. I wholeheartedly agree with everything said in this article! Telling a kid he can’t play X sport because he plays Y sport and thus is not committed enough is just as ridiculous as telling a kid you can’t play X sport unless you also play Y sport to prove to me you are a true athlete. Look at the kids in from of you during the season and pick the best to play. Period. But I do wonder if the parents of one sport kids do put pressure on coaches to favor their “truly committed” kids over those playing other sports…saying it is unfair to play a kid who “just showed up when my kid has been there for the past three months of preseason play”

  24. I’m sorry, but I have to completely disagree with this reasoning. I am a high school girls basketball coach, and the other coaches in the district and I encourage kids to play more than one sport. I have never met one coach who discourages this and won’t work with our student athletes who play multiple sports. This weekend, for example, we have one varsity starter and one JV starter who are going to miss two conference games so they can participate in a national tournament for volleyball. So please tell me how we high school coaches are “not supporting multi-sport athletes”? Your statement is implying that every high school and youth coach does not support this, when in fact, the majority do, at least in the state of Montana. These aren’t small, rural schools I’m talking about either-these are the largest schools in the state. The majority of our varsity basketball players play 2-3 sports, and we LOVE that. It keeps them in shape, disciplined, shows good time management and commitment, and develops other muscles that single-sport athletes don’t. Your blog post is problematic, because it is a parents vs. coaches mentality, when in reality parents and coaches should work together to support each student athlete. If this is truly your experience with coaches then your community should look into addressing this issue, but what you are saying is 100% not true of the community I coach in.

    • Taylor I commend you and your approach wit your athletes. In my experience (limited thus far, oldest of 3 boys is in high school) the problem is that many coaches SAY that they encourage multiple sports. But when an athlete actually tries to make that happen, they face consequences such as limited playing time. What they present to the parents at orientation is not the same as what happens in real life. Coaches seem to be very territorial with respect to their own sport/players. And if a parent complains, well, then their kid will suffer the consequences for that too. (I don’t believe EVERY coach at EVERY school and level is as I describe but the sentiment of the blog is definitely what I experience where I live.)

      • I coach middle school girls basketball and am a huge advocate of the multi-sport athlete. I agree with both of you and your analysis with one caveat. As a coach, you teach your players not only “how to play” the sport, but most importantly we teach accountability, sportsmanship leadership skills.

        In our “welcome to tryouts” email to parents, there is boldface section that states..”I am a big supporter of the multiple sport athlete and realize many of you are playing in Fall sports. I fully expect you to honor that commitment and attend any practice and/or game until that season ends even if there is a conflict with basketball. Once that season ends, I would expect that basketball would be the first priority until our season ends. Of course, family or academic events take priority.”

        In my opinion, the conflict seems to arise when the athlete wants to compete in sports where the seasons run simultaneously. This is where I take issue with the parents. Today, it seems as if sports have become calendar events. Parents open their calendars and if the night is open, they fill it in with a practice or game. Or worse, when playing two sports at once, the mentality of “we will just split the time evenly between the two” is applied. Teams sports is so much more than just playing the game whether it is a conference game or national tournament.

        The parent has make the decision about “why” their kid is playing organized sports. I am not only a basketball coach, but the parent of a competitive youth athlete.

  25. I can completely attest to this. Club and travel teams for youth sports do not encourage multi sport athletes. My solution as a parent, is to do it anyway and accept the short term consequences in hope that the long game strategy will work. My daughter plays VOlleyball and Softball. Once she makes it to High School these seasons will not conflict, but for now they do. She lost a spot on a Power VB team because her previous coach thought she was more interested in softball than VB, exact words. She only earned a spot as a practice player on a travel softball team because she was playing VB and her schedule had too many conflicts. We accept it for what it is, a short term problem. I just hope all the rhetoric we read about is true and that later on coaches will value her multi sport experience because for now it doesn’t feel that way.

  26. The problem is simple the coaches who are out of season and not willing to share the kids! I coach softball and I need spring and summer dedication but I am completely flexible for the field hockey players and other sports when it is really their season. We are causing our players to be plaqued with injuries by not letting them become rounded athletes. It makes them stronger in the long run!!!

  27. Hi, Thank you for your article. Love the topic and it needs to be brought to the center of youth athletes! Respectfully, Parents are not “stuck in the middle” Parents are responsible, and are 100% accountable for raising their kids. The idea that club owners who are, fundamentally in it as a career can supersede a parent’s plan for their own kids is a troubling road. If you want to see your kids have the love of sport, then its your job to set a course where multi-sport activities are part of the plan. The external pressure/factors have always been present, just like us as parents. Thanks!

  28. I’m a big fan of multi-sport athletes and I have 3 kids doing it. We are also faced with the same issue of specializing. It really comes down to these simple 2 situations:

    Situation 1: If the parent and athlete decide early they don’t have the desire to play varsity or college+, then the choice is made much easier. In most cities, there are plenty of options to continue playing multiple sports. They just aren’t as competitive. It’s ridiculous for parents who think their kid should make an elite team but not put in the time. You can’t have it both ways. The sense of entitlement or “pay to play” is a big problem in the US. However, if you know you aren’t going to strive for the highest level, disengage from it. This is the happy situation.

    Situation 2: If their child is one of the best on their team and love the game, the challenge is real. The decision is not easy. To play at the elite level, you need to spend time; not just one season. There is talent there which means there is hope. Hope = parents spending gobs of money. To be the best at something, you have to work at it. Youth sports is like preparing your kids for a career, but in a safer environment. When they are adults, working hard pays off. Striving to play at the highest level at a sport is similar to rising up the ranks in the corporate world. Teaching that behavior when they are young is important for long term success and so the race begins. The process is ugly just like in the corporate world.

    If all kids played multiple sports it would be easy. Since kids specialize to get that edge, it creates an arms race. It’s up to the parents to decide whether to play or not.

    Before you start blaming coaches, here is something to think about. Generally, the elite coaches do it for a living. It’s their career. It puts food on the table. These coaches are no different than a salesman trying to sell more. Many moms and dads are in sales. They also believe what they sell is the best out there. Are these moms and dads bad people? There is a market and audience for elite sports. People will buy it. Parents are responsible for making the conscious choice.
    It’s not easy when the path is not clear.

  29. A major isssue is coaches, but also the schools. The seasons over lap way too much at the school I coach at. It isn’t fair to miss any practice when you’re on a team to be on another team. That’s ridiculous, but coaches of all the sports during that time should try to work out a schedule for all athletes to participate. I’m only a cheer coach and cheerleading is all year long so you can’t participate in any other sport during that time.

  30. I find this to be inaccurate about youth coach’s! Not all club coach’s frown upon multiple sports, we encourage multiple sports because one may help with the other in building a stronger athlete!
    I am a youth US certified lacrosse coach and I had 26 girls last season and the majority of them played more than one sport and a couple played 3 sports. Our youth program feeds the high school program and there coach’s also encourage multiple sports. If the player is having fun and learning with out getting burned out, let them play what they want to.

  31. Amen. Great article. Not all club coaches are that way, but there is certainly some pressure to specialize and we’ve all heard the horror stories. We have to continue to be advocates for our kids as the youth sports culture has certainly changed, even in the last 5 years.

  32. kids specialize because they are tired of the tug of war from different coaches/sports. i coach soccer, i allow my kids to play multiple sports. 1) i see them the least amount of time. why? because the other coaches in other sports “insist” that they never miss practices. 2) the kids finally quit soccer because, (as their parents tell me) they have no choice. can’t be on the AAU basketball team if he is playing soccer. coach says he can’t miss practices. it nauseates me. apparently, i am supposed to just have them for games, while the other coaches fight to have them make every one of “their” practices. worst of all, mommy and daddy then come to me and ask why their child is starting to get behind in soccer. i wonder why? (sarcasm), what, with double (sometimes triple) practices, missing time at soccer practices and frustration from the pressure that they need to focus on AAU, traveling baseball, etc….. you are destroying these kids. not helping them.

  33. No one is holding a gun to your head and making you place your child only on one specific team or sport. Being a parent means you are the boss, the child is yours, not the coach’s. If a club team coach is going down that road, you are more than able to say no. If he or she decides to “punish” your child, take your child to another league. It may not be as competitive as travel or club ball but it doesn’t hurt a kid to learn how to share, work with kids of lesser ability, and develop other skills. College coaches jobs hinge on finding talent. If your child is truly that one in a thousand gifted athlete, they won’t lose him or her.

  34. My son is a senior in high school and played football, basketball and lacrosse freshman year and then cut back to just football and lacrosse because he really enjoyed playing in indoor lacrosse rec leagues during the winter months. He became a starting varsity defensive back during his junior season and started at safety this past fall but football has always been king at his high school and he felt the the head coach acted differently towards him because of his participation in lacrosse. This was despite the fact that he was spending more time on a practice field and working out more than virtually all of the other players because of the overlap with football and travel lacrosse during the summer and fall seasons. This is also despite the fact that he had near perfect attendance at all off-season football activities, including lifting with the team after school in the spring and then heading out to his high school club lacrosse practices in the evenings, and often participating in both activities on the same day during the summer. He was of course fully committed to football during the season. This past spring he was unfortunate enough to break his collarbone playing lacrosse (which didn’t have any impact at all on this past fall’s football season). The first thing the football coach said to him was “that’s why I don’t like my players doing anything other than football”. I don’t know what, if anything, the coach said to “his players” who got hurt lifting, playing football or just screwing around like kids will do from time to time. My son has had some success and personal achievement on his travel and high school lacrosse teams but the football coach has never acknowledged any of this. While my son liked being a part of his high school football team, he loves playing lacrosse and this fall will pursue this love and his education at a DIII institution.

  35. While I agree that it is great for kids to participate in multiple sports, the level of play that the kids end up participating in needs to be given serious thought. I have children that play hockey and they are on the ice 5-6 times per week. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for extra sports. The kids know that and choose other sports that do not conflict with their primary commitment – hockey. We have experienced multisport players on the team and it is challenging to make their involvement in the team successful. When players start missing practices on a regular basis because they are off playing another sport, they typically are unable to be fully committed to the team. The player missing practice is not familiar with the plays being made and it is hard to develop that intuitive, in sync play that comes with working together consistently as a team. These kids are often burned out from playing multiple sports and don’t have enough “gas in the tank” for any of their teams. If you want to play multiple sports, then perhaps play at a recreational level where the commitment is not as intense, but the game is still enjoyable. I know there will be many who will say that there are cross-over skills that the multisport player can bring to each of their chosen sports and I agree their are transferable skills – I have witnessed that with one of my kids who is a quite a decent skier with nary a lesson to be had. I imagine all that time on the ice has somehow given her skills that translate well for skiing. Yet, she chooses to do skiing recreationally instead of having multiple competitive sports. Our kids are in sports to develop skills related to the game, but also skills that are necessary in life – commitment, time management, make choices, compromise, organization, collaboration to name a few. Sure play multiple sports, but also keep in mind it’s not all about you and what you want to do when you play on a team – if everyone on the team played multiple sports, when would there ever be a practice or game where everyone actually showed up?!

    • Marcia:
      You hit the nail on the head. If you want to play multiple sports you can only realistically do that at a recreational level. At a competitive level, it’s just not very likely. Teamwork is based in large part on practice time together. If a person is missing practices the team suffers. Also, a competitor who practices five days a week, all other things being equal, will be better at that sport than a kid playing multiple sports per week. So who gets the start? The better kid.

  36. Agree with this article. The pressure comes primarily from travel/club coaches. And the pressure is real — kids/parents are threatened that the athlete will be dropped if they play other sports. And in some cases, parents of teammates add to this by expressing “concern” that some kids on the team “aren’t committed to (soccer)” because they also play another sport. This is often because that parent wants their child to get the position and their child is “more committed” because they only play (soccer).

    It’s nauseating!

    The only thing I will say, is that in order for more kids to get to play HS sports, it’s nice if the top athletes aren’t trying to play 2-3 sports plus club teams (which often results in conflicts). But this can be solved another way, ie, by the high schools fielding Frosh, JV, and Varsity teams. Offering all levels (and giving all Freshman a chance to play and that year to develop – ie, no cuts but no guaranteed playing time). This is fair especially because not all 14yo boys are mature physically. And more kids get to represent the team and be part of school sports that first year of HS.

  37. All three of my kids play soccer. Two play for a premier level soccer team. I don’t blame the coaches and I don’t blame the parents. My husband coaches and encourages his players to play other sports. The problem is the sport as a whole. Since when is baseball played in the spring, summer, fall, and winter. This is an issue with all sports. What happened to sports having their season and that is it. When I was a kid we played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring/summer. New season, new sport to play. To me, soccer is a fall sport but because of the level my children play it has become year round. There isn’t enough time for student athletes to play multiple sports, go to school, and be kids so something has to give and usually that is playing multiple sports.

  38. I Coach High School Girls Basketball. We encourage our athletes to play multiple sports and encourage them to split time with us during the off season. We do want them to be committed to our sport during our season however, it only makes sense and is really the right and fair thing to do for themselves and their teams. We have been seeing an increase in club coaches from other sports scheduling activities, practices, games etc. for their athletes during our season and telling those player they must make those things or risk not playing. It’s wrong! My belief is that it is the BUSINESS of club sports to promote fear among their athletes and parents so that they can perpetuate their existence. They use the leverage of promises for scholarships, etc. to force kids into specialization in order to continue their revenue stream. Athletes with promise for Collegiate careers and beyond have always been able to move forward without the club involvement, what precludes that from happening today (I believe that nothing does, but the clubs would have you believe otherwise).
    By the way, lets get back to what sport was originally established for… fun, companionship, team, learning to work in teams, how to deal with adversity and success in life… entertainment and business should only be a secondary offshoot….

  39. I would tell this parent to move or find another coach that supports the playing of other sports. My experience is from a coaching perspective and I can tell you — it 50/50 with coaches and parents to blame. Everyone wants to win, every parent wants their child to excel. When you are talking about 8-10 year old kids and coaches upset that they are not “committed”, I would suggest to that parent they need to find another club for soccer.

  40. This forced pigeonholing of kids reminds me of the Breakfast Club speech.

    Dear (Coach) Mr. Vernon
    You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But, what we found out is that each one of us is: a brain . . .
    Andrew Clark: And an athlete . . . (substitute wrestler)
    Allison Reynolds: And a basket case . . . (substitute lacrosse player)
    Claire Standish: A princess . . . (substitute tennis player)
    John Bender: And a criminal. (substitute football player)
    Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

  41. Sport is pitted against sport. AAA Hockey Club sees Johnny 8 year old and sees what? HOCKEY PLAYER. Academy Soccer Club see Johnny and sees what? SOCCER PLAYER. Lacrosse Club sees Johnny and see what? LACROSSE PLAYER.

    For 1 Johnny out of 10 Million it might pan out as a good idea to stick with soccer at age 8 so he can become the next Leo Messi. For everyone else it is parents drinking kool aid or parents unable to so say no to their child that wants to go down that road.

    Each sport is pushing for a 10-12 month commitment at a younger and younger age which means what?….It means the seasonal and local programs lose players as they are dived out like lots among the various sports/clubs to be their “property” through high school. As the seasonal and local programs lose players and interest, they fold their programs and then it’s just the various sports duking it out amongst themselves for talent.

    If and when there is a seasonal program or a local program (usually one and the same) in existence (I run one), and it is not supported, parents have themselves to blame when their options are gone.

  42. As a HS coach myself I think the bigger issue of conflict is not athletes doing multiple sports, but it’s athletes (and their families) who want to do multiple sports at the same time. Coaches (even Dabo Sweeney) expect commitment to their team and their program during that season. I’d bet Clemson has an athlete or two who are playing in tonight’s championship game that also compete for their track team. I’d bet they have not missed FB practices or games to be with the track team. They, just like HS coaches do not want part time, when it’s convenient athletes.

    It’s hard to build a team culture when you allow some athletes come and go for another sport (or other endeavors). What if an athlete wants to miss practice/game to work a job? Who decides what activity is OK to miss for. Would missing for a job be any different than missing one sport for another? Coaches want athletes they can rely on. If one kid has approval to miss on a regular basis it opens the door for many more. Lots of athletes coming and going is not a recipe for building team success (and becomes a major pain in the butt for coaches)

    While I will certainly have discussions with athletes about what extra commitment to our specific sport could do for their future (especially if you see lots of potential) I let my athletes choose the sport they want to do outside of our season. That being said when they are in season with us I expect them to be committed to us, not trying to juggle two teams and two sets of expectations they can’t meet.

    Pretty simple. You join a team, you have expectations. Don’t like it, don’t join. Your boss wouldn’t want you asking off for work to go work for another company that has no interest in your primary job. That’s the conflict. Just like your boss likely not interested in that conflict neither are your coaches. Life is about making decisions (yes even as a teenager). You can’t do it all.

    • I agree. Being on a team is making a commitment. My daughter has missed a lot of volleyball practices the last 45 days due to HS softball and practicing 5 days a week. Practice times overlapped this year. New volleyball club meant we had no idea when practices were until we accepted an offer to play there. Unfortunate that the practices for both sports were same time. It wasn’t ideal but we made do. Come next year my daughter will have to choose; school softball or travel volleyball. It’ll have to be her choice but she can’t do both due to practice overlap. But it is HER choice.

    • This hits the nail on the head.
      As I coach I feel it is fully in the athlete’s best interest to experience different sports and different activities, it aids their overall development for both sports and they may discover they prefer another sport and helps them decide what to specialize in what is right for them over time.
      My issue as a coach is multiple sports at the SAME TIME. Following games and practices from the previous week, coaching plans and sessions are developed to help build the team in areas they need to develop. Sessions are planned to progress from X to Y over the course of 60/90/120 minutes of a practice. If 1 child (let’s call him “Jimmy”) has to show up 30 minutes late or leave 30 minutes late from practice twice a week to get to practice for his other sport, then Jimmy is not getting the full progression from these training sessions. It also means as a coach I have to stop and explain things separately to Jimmy to try to keep him at the same level as the rest of the group which means time lost, which is not fair to the other 12 players on his team who have to stop their momentum for 2-3 minutes so Jimmy can figure out what the group is doing. Get 2 players on the team in this situation and the difficulty grows exponentially. Sessions become less effective, they need to be repeated over the course of the season, which means other sessions have to be cut out because of time. This no longer just hurts Jimmy, this affects the development of the entire squad. We may work on tactics or set plays in a practice that we will try to execute in the following game; unfortunately Jimmy missed the end of practice this week so doesn’t know the play, when we attempt to use that tactic in a game it falls apart because Jimmy had no idea what we were trying to do. That’s if we can even play that game because Jimmy might have a hockey tournament and Suzy is away at a basketball game and 3 other kids on the team have other activities and 2 of them are on vacation; so now the half of the team that DID show up have to forfeit their game because they don’t have enough players to field a team.
      I would prefer as a coach to take on a player that has 75% of the skill level but is 100% committed to the team, than the superstar player who is going to miss 1 practice per week so they can play another sport at the same time.
      I will never discourage a player from playing multiple sports, and I fully expect players to occasionally miss practice (illness, injury, family vacations, etc) but if the other sport has a continual effect on a player’s ability to attend practice and games, it is a major issue as it does not just affect the coaching staff, but it also has an effect on the development of the other 10-15 players on their team.

  43. I have 2 sons that play 3 sports in high school. And both play summer travel baseball with academies. My oldest is now a junior and is an extremely gifted athlete all conference in all three sports and threw 88 mph as a sophomore. He wants to play baseball in college but here is the problem. Most kids today play only one sport. So it now being winter it is wrestling season. About twice a week he gets emails from D1 coaches asking him to come to there winter camps. He does not throw from October till March to give his arm a rest and does not have time to go to winter camps because of wrestling. Meanwhile all these kids that specialize are committing to colleges while he is wrestling or playing football. He plays baseball in spring and summer why don’t they have there camps then? Do you think he might be missing opportunities by not attending winter camps?

  44. I have two kids — boy and a girl. They both participated in the 3 three high school sports seasons during all four years of high school. My son and daughter both played club soccer and my son also played club lacrosse. Neither wanted to pursue college sports, they played solely for fun and wanted better competition than “rec leagues”.
    I do think that the parents hold most ( but not all of the blame) for specialization . As soon as a coach tells a parent that their kid is “special”….. its over…. the kids are no longer allowed to play sports for fun. They are no playing for college placements/scholarships. The parents lose all sense of reality, cause the have the kid that is going Division I.

  45. Thank you Ms. Carney. I suspect different coaches encourage specialization for different reasons. Here are some: (1) their own incompetence: they simply do not recognize the benefits of letting kids play other sports; those who suggest a child is not committed are simply idiots; (2) they are concerned more with winning than with the development of the kids (e.g if the high school basketball coach has all of his girls playing the same system in summer ball, they will be a better team even if the individual players are not reaching individual potential); and (3) money: I question why coaches who get paid to coach “select” sports exert pressure on kids and parents to forgo playing a different sport in the off season to attend camps and clinics operated by the same coach/coaches.
    Unfortunately, it is up to parents to break the trend in specialization: to trust that if your child is truly gifted/elite, she will eventually rise even if she forgoes a few years of playing “select.” Parent must also understand that in all but a few cases, the child is not going to get an athletic scholarship whether or not he/she specializes; encourage the kids to enjoy all sports while they have the opportunity.

    • I completely agree with this and yet there is blame to go all around. No one faction can be solely blamed. College coaches are recruiting from club tournaments because it’s in their off season so parents will think that they need to have their kids there instead of in another seasons sport. High school teams vary. Basketball and baseball play together all year and in soccer volleyball and softball kids transition from club to high school. Kids in soccer and softball never get a break from their club teams because they have to go to Sunday club practices. Volleyball at least takes a break.
      How do I know all this?–
      I was a three sport athlete in high school. Played club softball and club volleyball and softball in college. Now I am a teacher and head softball coach at a high school and I have three kids. All in sports. It will take a search to find the right club team whose coaches don’t limit and overuse their players. It takes an informed parent to find out if college coaches are actually showin up to tournaments ( because this is really what we should be paying clubs to do–get exposure) and it takes commitment and a big reality check.


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