Utilizing Multi-Sport Activities for Optimal Soccer & Athlete Development - Soccer Parenting Association
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Utilizing Multi-Sport Activities for Optimal Soccer & Athlete Development

As a mom, I worked hard to get Cali, my soccer playing daughter, into a variety of sports when she was young. Afterall, there is ample research (this link is to a master's thesis providing an overview of much of the research) and anecdotal evidence related to early sport specialization and negative consequences both physically (overuse injuries, lack of complete athlete development, etc.) and emotionally (burn out, etc).   Cali played basketball for a season, softball for two, took gymnastic classes and made her way up the belts in Tae Kwon Do. That being said, she always returned to soccer. 

As Cali got into her early teen years, my concerns with year round soccer became less about burn out (she loved it so much) and more about handling the stress of growth, her complete athlete development, and the consequences of 3-4 nights a week of soccer for 9 months of the year on her social life and identity development.  

In 2016 I interviewed John Cone, Ph.D., founder of Fit for 90 and a coach educator for U.S. Soccer.  Below is a 3 minute clip where we discuss what parents must be looking for from the club when it comes to athlete development when soccer is the only sport being played (the complete hour long interview can be found at the SoccerParentResourceCenter.com). :

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Skye: And let's just touch on a few brief things. I know we have a lot to cover, but an environment for a child and expectations the parents should have of a coaching environment where the coach and the club is saying this is the only sport you can participate in. We need you to have that level of commitment. So this is that 8, 10 month out of year commitment.

What should parents be looking for in that environment in terms of varying movements and developing a complete athlete?

John: Yeah, I mean, that's one of the challenges. I think you and I can look back and say, "Well, we grew up in a culture that was different." Sporting culture was different and I think that we've seen a transition in terms of what's normal and it is a transition to more sports specialization, if you will. Right?

And so, in doing that, what we have to be much more aware of now is we're in an environment where we've created this for our players, right? Are they doing the ancillary work, complementary work that's going to help build them as athletes, right?

And so, are we doing stuff in a weight room that's going to help improve their strength, for instance. So, the elements that are in part of the game have to be addressed effectively. Whatever the game is, right?

So, they look at any game. If you look at soccer, if you look at basketball, if you look at ice hockey. Three very different dynamics. Different movements that are being emphasized. We have different types of contractions, especially when we look at the muscle contraction in hockey, for instance, versus soccer, versus basketball and so forth. It's a different type of movement, right?

And so, ultimately, some of this comes down to the details and the coach being aware of the details of the different types of strength, the different types of power, the different types of agility and making sure that we're addressing the things that the game doesn't deliver.

So, while we're on the field training for an hour and fifteen minutes training in soccer, well, what the game doesn't deliver, what our training doesn't deliver from an athletic perspective we have to pull those other elements in and deliver those elements to other areas. So, is it strength training? Is some of it done through warm-up? Is some of it done through corrective strength training at the end of training?

So there's a lot of different opportunities that we need to take advantage of, if you will, that will build the athlete because ultimately if a soccer player is a better athlete, they're going to be a better soccer player.

And we have to really consider this with the youth and the adolescent player because it's not a short-term process. I think that's one of the biggest things to consider. I'm not a patient person. I don't think any of us are really patient people, but this really is and we have to consider the developmental stage of a player. It's always building. Every year builds on the year previously and we have to really be aware of this.

So, it's a long-term process, and I think until we get to the point where we're considering everything, we're really detailed in our plan, it's almost going to be a challenge.

Skye: Yeah. So, I think that what you're saying and what I'm hearing is parents need to be seeking and making sure that if the club is requiring that the kids only participate in their one sport that they are varying the movements, and if not, they then need to seek other environments just for their health, and not necessarily any clubs but getting to the gym or finding other opportunities for them to develop that complete athlete.

John: Yeah, at the minimum and I think it's also important to consider the age of that kid and at what point are they starting to put age restrictions on the player because ultimately it is affecting not just the physical element but ultimately and also the psycho-social element of experiencing different environments, experiencing different coaches, experiencing different sports brings different elements. I just talked about physical, but there's other elements that need to be considered in this.

Last week I interviewed SoccerParenting.com Youth Coach Advisory Committee Member Britain Thomas, the founder of Metasport FC, a soccer club in Utah. Britain has built the year round soccer structure of his club around the idea that year round is okay because 1. the players are all high level, 2. there is a strong club culture including coach alignment around issues such as athlete development, and 3. they offer multi-sport opportunities.  


Britain: In 2016 I started MetaSport. And, the idea behind MetaSport was we're going to be a club. We wanted to keep it small, because I felt like in previous clubs kids got lost in the mix. And I really wanted to keep it just high-level, as far as the coaching went and, pretty consistent with culture. As I've had some good experiences with players, and, when they have younger siblings that were also in my club that had a poor experience. Our club was doing everything it could to accommodate everybody. And that's... It was just kind of a mixed bag. You didn't really know what you were going to expect. And so I think most Clubs fall into that where you have a coach that's a really good fit, and you have a coach for maybe another child that's maybe not such a good fit. So, it's just, it's hard to develop that consistency all the way through, really.

Metasport is considered a multi-sport club.  Not because they offer various sports for players to register for on an annual basis, but because they introduce other sports to all their soccer players as what he describes a "multi-lateral development tool."


Britain: In Utah there's no off season for most of these higher-level clubs. They go kind of this two times training sessions or two training sessions a week for 12 months out of the year. And, what I saw this opportunity to do different sports. And I saw an opportunity to reintroduce the off season. So, in November and December we introduced basketball and volleyball. And then we did pick up football, without coaching. So that was kind of how we got rolling, and we were kind of the first club in our area to really push multi-sport as a multilateral development tool. That's cool.

Skye: So you literally say, "It's now time for basketball, everyone." And everyone goes to basketball and then you say, "And now it's time for another sport," and everybody does that?

Britain: Well, it's what we decided to do, just because the culture wasn't there. Right? And I didn't know how they were going to respond to that. So, I decided, okay, November and December is going to be our off season, and we are going to fill the off season with opportunities to develop yourself as an athlete, take a little bit of a break, and do some other things, basically. So, we give my coaches a two-month break, basically. They come and they facilitate things, but they're not doing a lot of coaching. I have a basketball trainer. I have a volleyball trainer. We have a speed and agility session that they can go into a week. And then I run some movement-based strength and conditioning, which is drawing a lot on what Ajax  was doing years ago in their multilateral development.

And so, they can take that time off completely. We encourage them to come and try things and do things a couple of times a week. But if they needed a break to go or ski or whatever, they can take that time off. But they really have four or five different opportunities within a week to stay active during that off season, so it's not just shut down.

Skye: Do they just pay for like off season training and then they can go wherever, or how does that work with registration?

Britain: Yeah. Yeah. So everybody in the club pays an extra 50 or 60 bucks. And that's kind of what goes into the pool to hire the trainers and to get the space that we use. I mean, you know, we play on volleyball and basketball courts during the wintertime anyway. And, so that money just kind of all goes into a pool. And so, even the people that are taking a break, they're still putting money into that pool.

And, yeah. So people have the opportunity to come or not come as much as like.

I then went on to ask Britain about the benefits of this multi-sport break from soccer. Here's what he had to say:


Skye: And then, have you seen what have been some of the benefits that you've seen of that, Britain?

Britain: I have seen... I had a player who was on the first Real Salt Lake Academy Team at... I think they had started U12 or U13. And he was double-rostered with his club team playing the RSL Academy team. And then, kind of progressed through his soccer years. And mom and dad told me at the end of the session, they're like, "You know, he didn't really make it to a lot, but we used the opportunity to go skiing," and they're like, "I don't think he's had a break since he was eight years old, more than like a week or two. And, this kid was 16 years old, and hadn't had a break in eight years. And we're always really quick to add in hours and to add in additional opportunities and ODP and RSL and all of these other things, and I think over time, it just kind of wears on them.

Skye: Yeah. I imagine there's lots of team building that happens within the club, and the friendships that are formed when the kids are just truly just playing a little bit outside of the stress of the competition of the game.

Britain: Yeah. I think in some cases, our more skillful players are our more popular players, because this is the domain that we live in. And when you operate outside of that domain, it starts to equal or even the playing ground a little bit. You know, when you take your kids bowling, is it your best soccer player that's your best bowler? Probably not.

Importantly, Britain brings up the psycho-social aspect of sport development.  John Cone mentions this in his clip above and psycho-social development was definitely one of my concerns with my daughter when she stopped participating in other sports around the age of 12.

Simply put, as a parent I was concerned with Cali spending so much time in what was often a stress-inducing performance focused environment where the social dynamics were well formed.  

Futsal provided Cali with just the break she needed, similar to how Britain mentions the benefits of the multi-sport tracks to social dynamics.  While there was a limited two month window of opportunity for Cali to participate in Futsal based on her team schedule,  it was important to her both emotionally and soccer-development wise. Futsal provided an entirely new group of coaches (it's nice to hear a different voice!), many new players, a co-ed training environment, and created much less performance stress.  

This mental break from the grind of a performance environment was an important part to Cali's overall athlete development.

I don't think we are going to be able to change the landscape of youth sports where many parents of athletes are choosing to allow them to specialize at the higher levels. With that being said, parents need to be especially aware of the emotional and physical needs of their child and parents need to remember, as John Cone stated, "if a soccer player is a better athlete, they're going to be a better soccer player."

About the Author Skye Eddy

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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