In 2015, the International Olympic Committee made its boldest statement yet on youth athletic development:
“Empirical evidence shows that a diversity of activities in early development is an indicator of continued involvement in more intense activities later in life, elite performance and continued participation in sport.”
This consensus statement was yet another in support of sport sampling, a common-sense approach to children’s physical development. Advocates of sport sampling encourage children to participate in a variety of sports and activities. Through this varied participation, children not only become better athletes, but also suffer fewer overuse injuries and less burnout.
It’s a science-backed counter-movement to the youth sports arms race mentality, the overemphasis on 12-year-old outcomes and the feverish drive for athletic scholarships beginning when little boys or girls first step on the ice, the field or the court.
Now More Than Ever
A generation ago, the term “sport sampling” didn’t exist. Back then, it was natural for children to play a variety of sports and a badge of honor to be a multi-sport star (remember "Bo Knows?"). Then came year-round single-sport scheduling, too many games, not enough development and the near-extinction of low-cost sandlot sports. At the same time, physical education classes dwindled in schools to a point that, today, only 3.8 percent of American elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools and 2.1 percent of high schools provide daily physical education. And of those, only 11 percent require children to spend at least half of the allotted time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
But there’s a brighter future on the horizon. Organizations like The Aspen Institute, USA Hockey and many others are working to end the arms race and bring back what’s best for kids. You can be a part of the solution by encouraging multi-sport participation for American children and keeping youth sports in the proper perspective.
Let’s team up to do what’s best.