Updated: Aug 29, 2019
LTAD for Physical and Mental Health
Ryan Muñoz, B.S., M.S., C.S.C.S.
With winter sports ending and spring sports in full swing, it’s only fitting we discuss the 4th pillar of LTAD. This pillar states LTAD pathways should encourage an early sampling approach for youth that promotes and enhances a broad range of motor skills.
All too often we see a season end, our young athletes take no time off, and they go right into the AAU/club season. This has severely negative effects on the health and development of the athlete. LTAD encourages a multisport sampling approach. There are multiple reasons for this, and for the sake of brevity, I will address the three that I feel are most important.
1. Overuse injuries. Athletes who play the same sport year round or specialize at an early age are at a much higher risk of overuse injuries. Think of playing basketball, football, or baseball year round and the repeated stress to the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders. The single sport, year round athlete is a ticking time bomb for an injury to occur. There is a reason professional athletes have an off season; it is to allow their bodies to recover from the past season and to get physically prepared for the upcoming season. Ideally athletes should play another sport. They should learn to move in a different fashion. This allows certain muscles/soft tissues time to recover while others are stressed and forced to adapt making your child a stronger and healthier athlete.
2. Motor Skill Development. The best athletes will stand out on any field of play. A multisport approach exposes the athlete to different movement patterns. Athletes may struggle with a new sport at first, but eventually their brains and bodies will adapt and they will develop a new movement skill that may be beneficial for their primary sport. Think of a wide receiver who plays basketball in the Winter. When grabbing a rebound, the athlete learns where his body is in space, he learns to high point the ball coming off the rim, and he learns to box out and shield his opponent from the ball. Now think of that same receiver going up for a jump ball against a defensive back the next fall. He will use his body to shield a defender (boxing out), and he will high point the ball (rebounding). The basketball movement has transferred to the primary sport of football.
3. BURNOUT! Burnout is real. Athletes need a break from their sport for physical and mental purposes. Youth athletes who participate in the same sport year round see much higher dropout rates than multisport athletes. This may lead to quitting sports altogether and an even more dangerous consequence, physical inactivity into their adult years. Furthermore, it’s great for an athlete to experience different coaches, and different roles on a team (starter to bench player), these experiences help mold the best athletes and teammates.
To keep it simple, encourage your child to play many different sports, especially in the early years between the ages of 5 and 12. Once the athlete reaches high school it’s time to narrow down the field to a couple of sports. Specialization doesn’t have to occur in high school, but moving to one sport as an upperclassmen is always a safe route.
Multiple sport athletes are not uncommon. Below are a host of MAD athletes who participate in multiple sports.