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Children who take part in more than one sport develop better movement skills

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Youth athletes should be encouraged to participate in a variety of sports, according to a new study which suggests that ‘sport sampling’ is linked to lower injury risk.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that exposing children to a variety of sports promotes ‘physical literacy,’ helping them to develop better movement skills and encouraging physical activity in the long term.

The findings have been published in the journal Sports Health.

Concerns have been raised previously about sport specialisation at an early age. Studies have shown that young athletes who limit their training to a single sport risk burnout, social isolation and overuse injuries. Experts recommend that children don’t begin focusing on a single sport until they are well into adolescence.

In the new study, young athletes who engaged in more than one sport in a given year were more than twice as likely to exhibit good neuromuscular control when performing certain landing skills as athletes who focused on one sport.

In a series of tests, 27% of the multisport athletes showed good landing coordination, compared to 11% of the single sport participants. Good neuromuscular control when landing can prevent anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, tendonitis, stress fractures, and other serious medical conditions that can hinder and/or delay an athlete’s performance, the researchers pointed out.

“If we want our children to be active for life so they are healthy and well, and if we want them to become good athletes, then we need to encourage kids to try a lot of different activities,” said Lindsay DiStefano, associate professor of kinesiology and the study’s primary investigator.

“Children who engage in a variety of activities have more opportunities to learn to control their body in response to different physical demands,” DiStefano explained. “By participating in a variety of activities, children might learn how to run up and down a court and quickly change direction, how to run while dribbling a soccer ball, or how to brace themselves for a potential collision. All of those things help children develop different components of neuromuscular control, which can prevent injury and also help them become better athletes long-term.”