Variety, as it turns out, is also the spice of sporting life. That's the opinion of John O'Sullivan, founder of the Changing The Game Project.
O'Sullivan believes that youth sports should be viewed as a chance to try out different pursuits, as opposed to pursuing the objective of becoming a star in one sport.
"How will you know what you're good at, or what you like, unless you try a lot of things?" O'Sullivan asks, citing a number of reasons why parents should allow their kids to sample as many experiences as are feasible.
"Just from that standpoint of exposing children to a variety of things and seeing what they're good at, what they're passionate about, what their skill set fits, is No. 1," O'Sullivan explained.
"No. 2 is it's pretty compelling that a multi-movement experience prevents overuse injuries. It also prevents burnout and it prevents dropout and it forms better all-around athleticism. Multi-sport participation is a really fun way to develop all-around athleticism in children and set them up for a future where they're a better athlete, which will allow them to excel in a sport that they really, really love."
After two decades as a soccer player and coach on the youth, high school, college and professional level, O'Sullivan turned his focus to giving youth sports back to the kids. He's written two best-selling books on the subject.
Devoting all their free time to the pursuit of one sport can quickly turn into drudgery for children who are looking to try different activities. Doing a strength and conditioning program for hockey in the offseason, for example, isn't going to be nearly as much fun as playing baseball, or rugby, or soccer.
Intuitively, we think the more my child is doing something, the better at it they will be. But study after study shows that isn't the case, as do elite athletes such as Kyler Murray (football, baseball), Mookie Betts (baseball, bowling) and Jake Allen (hockey, golf) display by reaching the elite level of more than one sport.
"That would be the case if children were computers and all we were doing is programming information into them," O'Sulivan said of the single-sport pursuit. "But they're not computers. They're human beings. They have socialization matters, emotion matters, confidence matters, health matters."
Just as world-class athletes taper their training in preparation for major events, O'Sullivan believes that parents should view allowing their kids to try other sports as kind of like tapering for children.
"You have to sort of allow them to devleop holistically and then when the time is right, they'll be ready to jump all in," O'Sullivan said. "If all you're focused on is how many hours we can get in when they're really, really young, yeah, for some kids that might work. But for a lot of kids, they're more likely to burn out or drop out, quit, get injured - whatever it is - than they are to excel at that sport."
O'Sullivan recommends that seasonal sports objectives be set by parents for their children.
"Try to do one a season," he said. "Try to find that balance. Free time is important to your children. Rest is important to your children."
At the same time, O'Sullivan recognizes that economics may prevent some families from putting their kids into a variety of sports. However, it isn't important that they participate in organized, structured sport 12 months a year. Going for a hike or a bike ride on a regular basis, even joining a marching band or going out for the school play are options that can keep a child active and engaged.
"If you can't do multiple sports, you should at least have a multiple movement childhood," O'Sullivan said.