How Your Kids Can Be Like Pat Mahomes: Being A Youth Multisport Athlete

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Patrick  Mahomes, A Youth Multisport Phenom.

Wow, that was an amazing Super Bowl! I’m still watching highlight clips and reliving the night over and over. Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for a more exciting game. It certainly was not Mahomes’ best game, but he and the Chiefs demonstrated such resilience. It’s exciting and promising for the city to see such a young man not let back to back interceptions in the biggest game in pro football bring him down. Each time he jumped right back in and kept slinging that ball. The talent, charisma, leadership, and drive that Patrick embodies is something this city and youth athletes will enjoy and look up to for years to come. In only a couple of years, number 15 has become the most sold jersey, surpassing Tom Brady. You see kids all over the city wearing his jersey, pretending to be and emulating Patrick Mahomes.

Parents and kids alike might think, how do I/my child become the next Patrick Mahomes? Maybe start my child in a sport as soon as possible. Get them in as many games as we can fit in. If they don’t have practice on a day, let’s hire a one-on-one coach to help my child develop more advanced skills and leapfrog their peers. Surely, a talent like Mahomes has come from nonstop football? You might be thinking it makes sense to focus on one sport instead of jumping from sport to sport, regressing in each sport each time you jump from that one to the next. We’ll look at some key points that might make you think differently about specializing early in a youth sport versus being a multisport athlete.

Will Early Specialization Turn My Kid Into A Superstar?

One of the first things to look at is college and pro athletes compared to their peers. When did each group start specializing in a sport and how many hours were poured into that sport? Numerous studies have found that the average age a top athlete started specializing was 15 for team sports and 14 for individual sports. Their peers specialized at 12 or younger. Furthermore, time spent devoted to the sport also played a crucial role in the studies. Before 15 the future pros spent fewer hours in a sport than their peers, 15-18-year-olds – an equal amount of time and 18+-year-olds – more hours. Therefore, all those extra hours as a child developing a skill washed out by the time they’re 15. All those extra weekend games, camps, one-on-one training, etc. produced the same skill throughout high school.

Mahomes played every sport he could get his hands on. In fact, he didn’t settle into a single sport until his sophomore year. He played baseball and football through his Freshman year at Texas Tech. He was even drafted by the MLB out of high school. Of course, there is always an exception. There are certain sports that demand a younger frame/body and benefit from specializing earlier. Sports like gymnastics and ice skating have a much younger average specializing age.

What’s Safer, Early Specialization Or Being A Multisport Athlete?

Youth sports injury

Children that specialize in a sport before 15 are far more likely to suffer from overuse and chronic pain injuries. This comes from the repetition in training, the development of muscular imbalances, and the lack of an off-season. Adolescents are uniquely prone to these injuries because of different growth rates. Bones tend to grow faster than the muscles can keep up. During this period, in order to produce the same amount of force as before the growth spurt requires a muscle contract up to 30% more than it had before. This places the demand on the tendons and leads to tendinitis and tendinosis injuries.

Outside of overuse injuries, research has found no difference in acute injuries between the two groups. A youth athlete is just as likely to break a bone or sprain an ankle regardless of whether they play 4 sports or 1.  *Schedule here if your child is currently suffering from a sports injury*

Won’t Playing One Sport Be Easier Psychologically On My Child?

Moving on, psychology is an interesting thing to look at with growing research on the topic. Early specialization (before age 12) athletes lack the sensory, cognitive and emotional/social skills to adequately handle demands of early specialization and competition. Training in one sport only can lead to a unidimensional identity and/or social isolation. This becomes especially problematic when the child becomes injured or falls behind his/her peers in athletic ability and not having a sense of self outside of that given sport. Additionally, playing one sport ingrains only one culture, one way of handling adversity. Whereas playing multiple sports and activities gives a child a breadth of experiences. For example, a teen getting into boxing or football requires a temporary numbness to violence. It is therefore good to balance that temporary numbness to violence with another environment to balance out that mindset. 

Will Focusing On One Sport Help My Child Fall In Love With That Sport?

Furthermore, the earlier a child specializes in a sport the higher the rates of burnout and drop out/withdrawal rates are. The demands and intensity of sport specialization at a young age require coping skills most are ill-equipped for. This can have a negative impact on lifetime physical activity and health. Around 70% of children drop out of organized sports by age 13. The earlier a child drops out, of organized sports the less likely they are to be physically active and healthy throughout their adulthood. 

What Is Suggested For Youth Athletes?

Prescription
  • First and foremost, if your youth athlete is in pain, schedule with us or a sports specialist in your area. (Click here to Schedule now)
  • Make sure the recommendation isn’t long periods of rest
  • Fun should be the primary focus for youth athletes
  • Variety in sports decreases the chances of injuries, stress, and burnout
  • Early diversification and later specialization provides for a greater chance of lifetime sports involvement, lifetime physical fitness, and possibly elite participation.
  • Having at least a total of 3 months off throughout the year, in increments of 1 month, from their particular sport of interest will allow for athletes’ physical and psychological recovery. Young athletes can still remain active in other activities to meet physical activity guidelines during the time off.
  • Young athletes having at least 1 to 2 days off per week from their particular sport of interest can decrease the chance for injuries.

Had Patrick’s parents tried to make him be a baseball star like his dad and only enrolled him in baseball from 5 years old and on, we may have lost out on a phenomenal athlete. Kansas City may not have broken the 50-year winless streak. Pat might have given up on sports or maybe would have suffered from chronic elbow pain and ended up with multiple Tommy John surgeries preventing him from playing. Obviously, he’s part of the 1% of youth athletes that make it to the pros. He’s also a player with unreal talent in his chosen sport that soars above most of the pros. But, you can see the influence and mental toughness of the other sports when he’s on the field. And more importantly, clearly, he is still having fun!

By Tom Cotter, DC DACRB

Sources:

https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/4/221.full

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6350152/

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/3/e20162148

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00336297.2019.1580205

https://sports.yahoo.com/patrick-mahomes-didnt-stick-to-one-sport-making-him-a-prime-example-for-multisport-youths-200712740.html