Case Study: Youth who play multiple sports tend to be healthier, become better athletes, and have a lot more fun

Here are more reasons why award-winning Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Sahli is happy when kids are involved in multiple sports programs and supervised by certified strength coaches.

Some parents fear that if their child is not specializing in a single sport while in middle school and high school, then that child may not excel at that sport later on. “All the research says that’s exactly the wrong thing to do,” cautions award-winning strength and conditioning coach Scott Sahli. “It’s truly eye-opening for parents when they discover the pitfalls of pigeonholing children at an early age, and the numerous benefits of diversifying their sports experiences.”

Sahli speaks from decades of experience and successes. A current strength coach at Lakeville South High School in Minnesota, Sahli was named the 2010 National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. He has led his high school teams to multiple State Championships.

Diversifying sports help reduce injuries and increase opportunities

Parents of student athletes are trying to do the right thing for their kids, but are frequently surprised when Sahli names his reasons for encouraging kids to play multiple sports. “The research is very clear,” he says, “but parents generally don’t have access to the information.” 

●     Youth who play multiple sports are less likely to get hurt. “Injuries among sports-specialized kids are most often from overuse. They have been doing the same repetitive motions, sometimes for years. They may end up developing arthritis later in life. It can be devastating.”

●     Diversifying may increase the opportunities for a sports career. “University scouts are more likely to recruit multi-sport athletes because they tend to be more well-rounded athletes with lower injury risks. Plus, 87 percent of NCAA DI athletes and professional athletes are playing sports they probably didn’t even play when they were young. They are multiple sport athletes, who discovered their current sport as they matured.”

●     Youth who play multiple sports tend to stay interested in physical activity. “The dropout rate of youth sports is 70 percent. Youth who don’t move on to join other sports are at higher risk for Exercise Deficit Disorder (EDD). Inactive children and teens exhibiting signs of EDD are more likely to be overweight or obese, more prone to injuries, and are more likely to burn out or drop out from sports and physical activities for the rest of their lives.”

●     Youth who play multiple sports tend to be healthier emotionally. “While the research is just touching the surface on this, kids can struggle socially if most of their interactions are with the same group of people all the time.”

●     Youth who play multiple sports generally have more fun. “When I’ve worked with high school-level kids who have previously only played one sport, they almost universally tell me they didn’t know other sports could be that much fun! After the experience, they often feel rejuvenated for their original sport. Changing groups and sports also expands kids’ social circles. And crossing over to new sports helps their central nervous systems make new connections, and saves their bodies from overuse. Collectively the research says this variety and diversity makes them better athletes.”   

Other ways to raise healthy, well-rounded student athletes

Sahli explains that having an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) on a high school’s staff can elevate the program to a whole new level. “Certified strength and conditioning coaches understand that kids are not little adults. They need to train at their appropriate age level, and a long-term athletic development model needs to be in place.”

He explains that, “Injuries can also be caused by how kids train. If they aren’t using certified coaches, the likelihood of injuries goes way up. Certified strength and conditioning coaches know how to train and what to look for to prevent injuries. They also know how to work with sport coaches in the school’s athletic program to ensure kids are receiving a well-rounded training program. They understand the same language and objectives. They’re in sync with one another, knowing that certain things need to take place in a certain order. As a result, the kids tend to be stronger, perform at a higher level, and have fewer injuries.”

Sahli gets tremendous satisfaction from watching the youth in his programs succeed in life, not just in the field or on the court. “Physical activity encourages development of their self-worth, self-confidence and motivation. It also lays the groundwork for a lifetime of physical fitness.”

Parents can educate themselves even more about how to support their child’s long-term athleticism by viewing the NSCA’s infographic, the 10 Pillars for Successful Long-Term Athletic Development.

Biography: Scott Sahli, CSCS,*D, NSCA-CPT,*D, RSCC*E, USA Weightlifting National Coach 

Scott Sahli is the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator at Lakeville South High School, Lakeville, MN. Sahli was formerly Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at Northfield High School. His Olympic Weightlifting teams at Northfield won 7 consecutive State Championships. The football teams won 11 section championships and competed in the State Championship game five times.

In 2011, Sahli took the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator position at Burnsville High School with the purpose of creating a top notch strength and conditioning program and getting teams to championships.  In six years his Olympic Weightlifting teams at Burnsville won four State Championships and the football team played in thre4e section championship games and went to state one time after at 20-year drought. 

Coach Sahli is a two-time Minnesota High School Strength Coach of the Year and was the NSCA 2010 National High School Strength Coach of the Year. 

The nationally-known weightlifting clinician was a State Director for the Minnesota NSCA for six years and was named the State Director of the Year for the NSCA in 2008. Sahli is currently the North Central Regional Coordinator for the NSCA.  Sahli is the co-author of two DVD’s on weightlifting and coached Hannah Means in the 2004 USA Olympic Team Trials for Weightlifting.

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