What Ashley Tysiac Wants: Play Multiple Sports

Ashley Tysiac photo.jpg

By Ashley Tysiac

One of the most enjoyable parts of my youth athletic career has been the opportunity to play multiple sports. A rising high school junior, I participate in my high school’s basketball, cross country, and track and field programs, and I have been involved in athletics since elementary school.

Playing many different sports used to be the norm for kids many years ago. Athletes may have followed a routine such as playing football in the fall, followed by basketball in the winter and baseball during the spring.

Now, with the emergence of AAU and travel teams, young athletes can participate in any sport they choose year-round. This has led to an increase in competitiveness in the world of youth athletics, leading kids to train aggressively in certain sports to get ahead of the competition.

Focusing on one sport, known as specialization, is a practice that many athletes, parents and coaches believe can help youth develop into athletic stars and perhaps secure valuable college scholarships. However, research has shown that specializing in one sport at a young age can result in physical and mental consequences, including overuse injuries and psychological burnout.

A study commissioned by the National Federation of High School Associations showed that high school athletes who specialize in one sport are 70 percent more likely to become injured during their sports season than those who are involved in multiple sports. Additionally, kids ages 6 to 12 who participate in a single sport have higher injury rates than children the same age who play more than one sport, according to a brief by the University of Florida Sport Policy and Research Collaborative.

Research has also shown that specializing can increase stress levels in young athletes and cause them to “burn out” or quit their athletic activities. The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine recommends that kids limit weekly and yearly practice and competition in a specific sport to decrease the risk of burnout.

Playing multiple sports can decrease the likelihood of a young athlete getting injured and the chance of burning out. Kids can also have the opportunity to learn and practice different skills that can be carried over to each sport that they play.

As an athlete, I have seen firsthand how specialization can negatively impact kids. Some people who I had competed against for years suddenly lost their passions for the sports that they played. The countless hours spent training and competing in a single sport eventually tired them out.

Fortunately, my family and coaches over the years have always supported my decision to run and play basketball. Participating in both sports has given me the opportunity to learn a variety of different athletic skills, meet new people, and develop as an athlete.

I enjoy basketball and track for different reasons. Basketball gives me a chance to play in a team environment that I enjoy, and there is no greater feeling than when the ball swishes through the basket. Running, a more individual sport, is completely the opposite, and I love that my success and failure is in my own hands.

The physical training that I get in track carries over onto the basketball court. It prepares me to play aggressive defense and run the floor. Playing basketball also increases my overall athletic ability, which translates to success on the track.

Sometimes it is a challenge to participate in multiple sports. It can be physically demanding and requires a big commitment. I have to work harder to make sure that I keep my skills fresh in whichever sport is out of season, and the time commitment requires me to manage my time to succeed academically as well as athletically.

Nonetheless, I have managed to succeed as a multi-sport athlete and in the classroom, with fun and memorable moments in the gym and on the track.

Unfortunately, many children never get the opportunity to participate in multiple youth sports. Their parents and coaches discourage them from participating in many sports and direct them to focus on just one. I would urge parents and coaches to encourage young people to play many sports and enjoy the benefits.

Ashley, 16, is a junior at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, N.C.

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