As a Canadian Mental Health Association counsellor specializing with youth and young adults, Jenny Lee Almeida witnesses the impact that the stress of single-sport specialization makes upon growing athletes.
As an elite Canadian figure skater, Almeida also lived through the experience that the pressures of sport specialization can place upon youth sports participants.
The methods she discovered to overcome the stressers she was facing as a young athlete show now shares with today's young athletes who might be feeling the same pressure to succeed.
Mindfulness, breathing exercises and journaling were among the outlets she discovered to help keep her grounded and balanced while training and competiting.
Trying a multitude of sports was another method that worked for her and one that she believes is vital to the mental and physical health of all developing young athletes.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we embrace it,” Almeida said of the multi-sport lifestyle. “We get to know ourselves with a multi-level of trying and exploring different levels of sport.
“You’re trying different coordination, you’re engaging different muscles and parts of our brain. And sometimes if we’re not open to it or we don’t have anyone providing us this environment, this multitude of sports, we might be very limited and we might think that we fit in a box or we’re not good at certain sports.
“I think that’s the power of being able to utilize a multitude of sports.”
Almeida’s own sporting resume is impressive. Beyond figure skating, she’s tried taekwondo, tai chi, swimming, ballet, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, tennis, golf, kickboxing, badminton, kayakaing, and sailing.
“Being able to open up our minds to multi sport enables us to open up a mindset that wow, this is going to be really cool.” Almeida said. “It’s about engaging our physical health and for me, I believe it’s brain health, because we’re engaging in two things. We’re doing something physically, which is really healthy for our bodies but also we’re doing it for our brain.”
Life is about experiences, after all and Almeida believes that it's only natural and beneficial for parents to open up their children to a wide variety of choices when it comes to sports participation. The benefits will far exceed the simple fact that they will be healthier and more physically developed kids.
“Human beings, we thrive on social connections,” Almedia said. “Getting together and connecting is the greatest reward that any parent can give their children by putting them not just in one sport but in multi sports. We’re opening up and we’re enriching their environment, learning from different coaches and different individuals in our community.”
From personal experience as someone who got to a high level of competition on the ice as a competitive figure skater, Almeida can also debunk the commonly-held belief that in order to be elite at a sport, a child must specialize at a young age. In fact, Almedia discovered that her smorgasboard of activities was a key element in allowing her to advance on the ice.
"It strengthened my ability as a figure skater," Almeida said. "As a young athlete, when we’re growing and we’re learning, we’re also developing a construct of who we are. I think for myself, being able to try a plethora of sports really allowed me to get to know what my strengths are.
"Playing sports that were team-based and learning from other youth, as young kids, we need that. We socialize around our peers and team sports. It allowed me to learn how to communicate more and to socialize with my peers and to work through problems together. I think it sets us up for building a community and getting to know ourselves."