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Exposing kids to multiple sports and activities is a hot topic in youth athletics — and for good reason. When kids and teens cross-train by playing more than one sport, they can boost strength, coordination, and conditioning—not to mention help prevent overuse injuries and burnout.
“Kids who play multiple sports develop skills by using their bodies in different ways,” says sport performance coach, Alex Harrison, Ph.D., CSCS. “Cross-training can also help prevent overuse injuries, because no single body part is repetitively used in the same motion.”
Let’s not forget the mental part of the game. A recent study published in the Journal of Athletic Training showed that participating in multiple sports, especially activities that are enjoyable and developmentally appropriate, can help protect the mental health of young athletes.
With that in mind, choosing sports that go well together can help athletes hone their skills, boost performance, and recharge their batteries. Here are five pairings to get you started.
Tennis and Soccer
Both tennis and soccer require athletes to have exceptional agility skills and coordination. Athletes need to train their lower bodies for both sports to continuously and quickly start and stop during play. The sports though are just different enough to not over-tax the body, and involve different types of coordination. (One is hand-eye, and the other eye-foot!) Performing different movements, whether it’s more running with soccer or more upper-body engagement with tennis can help athletes enhance their overall speed, power and agility.
Lacrosse and Football
Football requires sprint speed and the ability to recover between plays, and lacrosse develops the same. “There’s a bit more continuous movement with lacrosse, and just as much sprinting and cutting,” Harrison says. “The physical development that comes from lacrosse—as well as the toughness and willingness to engage in contact with minimal protection—can serve football players well and help them complete plays.”
Gymnastics and Swimming
Both sports require an awareness of the body in space along with attention to detail related to how the body moves. Swimming and gymnastics also involve a lot of upper and lower body strength, stamina, and explosive power. Plus, swimming allows gymnasts to get off their feet and develop more aerobic endurance. The water can provide a welcome break from tough landings.
Basketball and Volleyball
Basketball and volleyball both require athletes to have strong vertical power that transfers to jumping for both offensive and defensive plays. In volleyball, athletes need jumping skills for spikes and blocks, and with basketball, players need to get off the floor to rebound and block opponent’s shots. The sports also involve hand-eye coordination, agility and upper body strength.
It’s not just the transferable athletic skills that make this pairing so popular, though. Sometimes it’s the idea of just doing different sports that offer similar qualities. Bonus: You can play volleyball in the sand, making it fun for a seasonal break.
Track and Field and Nearly Everything
“Track and field is the ultimate pairing with land-based sports,” Harrison says. “There are fundamentals that lay the foundation for future development and performance of other sporting skills like springing and cutting, sprinting and jumping to catch a ball or any other variation on straight-line acceleration.”