As president of the Royal Canadian Chiropractic Society, Scott Howitt is well aware of the benefits of the multi-sport lifestyle.
“Sport chiropractors are very much advocates for sports as medicine and encouraging physical activity,”Howitt explained. “The guidelines for physical activity . . . particularly in kids, they’re supposed to be exercising an hour a day of moderate to vigorous activity. In addition to that, there’s supposed to be another 2-3 hours of freestyle play, just having fun
“One of the things the multi-sport approach certainly helps facilitate is actually just getting that phyiscal activity that’s so imporant in order to be healthy and maintain that healthy lifstyle moving forward.”
Chiropractors such as Howitt see the impact that sport specialization can impact on the body of a young athlete. By playing only one sport, they are overtaxing the same muscle groups time and again and that can lead to some frightening outcomes.
“There’s less chance of overuse injuries when you are playing more sports,” Howitt said. “From an injury perspective, it really ends up being about volume. The volume of activity if you will. We still need to be intentful about rest and recovery.
“There’s been a fair amount of research on this and a number of researchers looking at this topic. The general recommendation would be that if you are in one sport, you need to take a month at least three times a year. In each of these opportunities is the opportunity to engage in other sports.
“What I see from an injury standpoint is that playing more sports is healthful and what I see from a coaching perspective is that a lot of coaches are quite happy that their athletes play other sports, because it does provide them those fundamental skills and ways to practice without the burnout or overuse that is sometimes associated with injuries.”
While resting some muscle groups when changing their field of play, young athletes are also learning a variety of skills from playing these other sports that will prove to be of benefit to them if they do indeed one day become an elite competitor in a single sport.
“We see that the athletes that engage in more than one sport have additional athletic skills that will not only apply to the sport that they’re in but also to other sports,” Howitt said. “The hopping and skipping and bounding and landing, balancing and agility. Those kind of fundamental skills are transferable across all sports.
“It’s not uncommon for us to be looking at an athlete and say ‘your ability to rotate, or to land and have balance is really great. Do you play other sports?’ And of course they say, ‘yeah, soccer is my main sport but I’m also into skiing and in the summertime I like to golf.’”
More of the same isn’t better for the young athlete. In reality, often it’s detrimental to their development both as athletes and as young adults.
“I will see high-level athletic kids and ask them, ‘Do you have time to spend with your friends? Do you have time to do things with your family? Do you have trouble getting your homework done? How’s your sleep for that matter? The answers are disheartening sometimes.
“There’s a misconception, especially in young athletes, that they need to specialize in a sport to be elite. If you look at the research done on college athletes and professional athletes, early specialization is the exception. Most of those athletes that are at this level have played multiple sports.
“The research shows that you don’t need to specialize until late adolescence. In fact, it’s probably better that your don’t.”