Jun 01

Positive Impact of Multi-Sport Experience – Part 4

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Previous articles centered on burnout and dropout, stress, and injuries linked to early specialization. While the topic has been a hot discussion for years, it seemingly has had little impact! Parents and coaches still embrace the ‘win at all cost’ attitude and push kids early on despite existing data or expert opinions and well-reviewed evidence highlighting the pitfalls of the approach. Researchers pursue the topic once again due to significant consequences.

According to present research, it is very beneficial for younger athletes to participate in various sports and learn from and interact with different coaches. Multi-sport experiences enhance children’s movement repertoire and fundamental movement patterns if teachers and coaches follow guidelines of physical literacy (ABCs, agility, balance, coordination, and speed).

For example, I trained and competed in Germany during my youth years in the so-called Jahn Sechs Kampf1 [Jahn Six-event competition] consisting of 2-Aquatic events  (selected 50 m Breaststroke, and Forward Pike Dive on 1m board); 2-Athletic events (selected 75m Sprint, and Long Jump), 1-Gymnastics event (selected Vaulting), and 1- Rhythmic Sportive event (selected Rope). The competition was held as a local, state, regional, national event, and included the ‘Deutsches Turn Fest’ (German Gymnastics Festival, comprising gymnastics, rhythmic sportive, athletics, and swimming), and the so-called Gymnastrada2 [Open International Event, held every 3-4 years].

The German Sport System

Jugend Leistungs Sport Abzeichen in Gold [Youth Sport Brooch in Gold]











The German sport system also has an annual sport participation event, called ‘Sport für Alle’ [Sport for All] whereby participants of all ages accumulate points based on fixed national standards for the ‘Leistungs Sport Abzeichen’ [Sport Achievement Badge]3 in various sport activities: run, jump, throw, swimming (choice event), various gymnastics skills, biking for specific distance, and hiking specific routes. To start up, one can earn a crest/broche/badge in Bronze, then move to Silver, and then Gold (in that order) for ‘Jugend’ [Youth] and ‘Senioren’ [Seniors = over 18 years]. Each can be repeated as many times as desired in consecutive years in the respective color: Bronze 1, 2, 3, etc.; Silver 1, 2, 3, etc.; and Gold 1, 2, 3, etc. That specific number is engraved at the bottom [shown: mine – Jugend Gold]. My father participated into his 80s, earning Senioren Gold 25 (25 repeated years), a true representation of ‘Sport for Life.’

Schools also participate nationwide in prescribed individual and team sport activities, Bundes Jugend Spiele4 [Federation Youth Games]. The school with the highest point total is granted a reception by the German President, and individual participants with highest point total receive the certificate from the German President. I have a box full of these (shown below), and I am very proud of my achievements based on multi-sport athleticism!

Inside – National Certificate President Theodore Heuss’s Signature

Front – National Certificate













Moreover, most German athletes participate in what is referred to as ‘Ausgleichs Sport’ [several translation can be used here: doing another sport as equalizing activity, or compensation for, sport balancing, whereby one engages in another sport at the recreational, club, partial or competitive or seasonal level]. For example, my brother, 3-time Olympic captain for German Ice hockey, played Summer Club Soccer, while German elite swimmer Sandra Völker participated in recreational Volleyball as her ‘Ausgleichs Sport.’

The Argument for Developmental versus Chronological Age

Istvan Balyi, leading Canadian Sport For Life CS4L expert and architect of the Long-term Athlete Development (LTAD), presented his research at the Canadian Summit in Gatineau, Quebec, January 23-25, 2018. He strongly disapproves of the current training philosophy evidenced in North American age group programming and the traditional competition format, superimposed by Sports Federations based on chronological rather than developmental ages. He calls for optimal training and competition preparation, developmentally appropriate and meaningful competition, and optimal recovery, which takes into consideration early, average, and late maturing athletes. The chart shows the range of boys and girls based on chronological versus developmental age.

Schloder, M.E. (2017). Growth and Development. NCCP Supplementary Lecture.















Height Variations among 7-8 year old Boys and Girls










Picture of boys basketball team showing the height difference between each of them

Height differences between adolescent male athletes













Height difference between four adolescent female swimmers

Height Difference of 13-14 year old female Athletes











Summary of Early Specialization Series Parts 2, 3, and 4

  1. Athletes emerge more balanced and well rounded within the developmental ‘athlete-centered’ program of Fun, skills, and goal achievement. It increases their chances of reaching elite levels in their sport, according to sport psychologists and sport sociologists.
  2. Athletes who try a number of sports and specialize at older ages reach higher performance levels than those who specialize early, and more importantly are less likely to experience burnout because they do not develop the typical ‘perfectionist driven’ attitude ever so present in early specialization programs.
  3. Athletes who specialize later also develop better movement patterns and decision-making skills because of the range of activities that require various cognitive and physical functions.
  4. Being in various sport situations keeps athletes mentally refreshed and more open-minded.
  5. Foremost, the more sports children and youth engage at younger ages in so-called ‘sampling or smorgasboard’ activities, the easier it is for them to select the one sport best suited to their mental makeup and body composition in order to specialize in that sport later on. Additionally, ‘sampling’ various sports and activities provides opportunities to develop fundamental movement skills within a variety of environments, and allows athletes to become more athletically diverse and adaptable.
  6. Athletes pursuing a number of sport experiences are most likely remaining in sports for longer period of times and stay ‘active for life.’
  7. Baker, Côté and Abernathy (2003) demonstrate a high correlation between an increase in sports sampled as a youth and the chances of succeeding and becoming elite athletes (cited in I. Balyi, R. Wade, & C. Higgs, 2013, pp. 53-54). Baker et al. also show that reaching excellence and elite status in a single-sport training system is not the vital factor in determining success; however, developing physical literacy and specializing later is.


Baker, J., CôtéJ., & Abernathy, B. (2003). Sport-specific training, deliberate practice and the development of expertise in team ball sports. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15, 12-25.

Balyi, I., Way, R., & Higgs, C. (2013). Long-term athlete development. A guide to developing a philosophy of sport for life; training frameworks, a consistently successful organization. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Bompa, T. (1995). From childhood to champion athlete. Toronto, ON: Veritas.

Coakley, J. (2000). Sport in society: Issues and controversies (6th ed.) Toronto, ON: Times Mirror/Mosby.

DiFiori, J.P. (2002). Overuse injuries in young athletes: An overview. Athletic Therapy Today, 7(6), 25-29.

Gould, D., Udry, E., Tuffey, S., & Loehr, J. (1996). Burnout in competitive junior tennis players: A quantitative psychological assessment. The Sport Psychologist, 10, 322-340.

Hill, G. (2009). Sport specialization: Causes and concerns. [PowerPoint slides]. Presented at the Long-term Athlete Development Conference of the Utah Athletic Foundation. Salt Lake City, UT.

Klika, B. (2018). Early sport specialization: Getting them to listen. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from http://iyca.org/early-sport-specialization-getting-them-to-listen/?inf_ contact_key=d7b16a7aefda94e3123209fae92a894930bf5ff352ad8d103b6630ba600eba02

Sanderson, L. (1989). Growth and development considerations for design of training plans for young athletes. Sports, 10(2).

Schwarz, C. (May 17, 2017). Hockey players who can’t catch. The Calgary Herald, B8.

Touretski, G. (1993). Physiological development of the young swimmer. A rational for the long-term preparation of the young swimmer. Paper presented at the Australian Institute for Sport. Canberra, Australia.

Weineck, J. (2010). Optimales Training. Leistungsphysiologische Trainingslehre unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Kinder und Jugendtrainings [Optimal training. Physiological performance within training theory with special consideration consideration for children and youth training]. Balingen, Germany: Spitta Verlag.


Dr. Jürgen Weineck, PhD, Dr. Med., Emeritus. Sport Institute for Sport Science and Sport. University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany.

1 Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778 – 1852), German gymnastics educator and nationalist. He is known as Turnvater Jahn, roughly meaning “father of gymnastics.”

2 Gymnastrada: Various performance-based sport events provide the opportunity to celebrate movement and physical activity in a non-competitive environment while capturing the true essence of the ‘Gymnastics for All’ and ‘Active for Life’ philosophies of sport and recreation.

3 Sport Achievement Badge (German: Deutsches Sportabzeichen (DSA) – decoration      from German Olympic Sports of the Federal Republic of Germany – German Sports Badge Test carried out primarily in Germany

4 ‘Bundes Jugend Spiele’ by Schools [Federation Youth Games]

5 Pictures, courtesy Istvan Balyi

    Balyi, I. (2018). Long-term athlete development. Gatineau, QC: Canadian Summit. Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L). January 23-25, 2018.

Websites and Forums on the Topic of Early Specialization:





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