June 2020 - 23

and vice versa. Encourage younger athletes to challenge
older athletes. Create a fun, challenging environment
through pick-up style play (and all for free!).
Most athletes will say their favorite part of practice is
when they get to " play " their sport. Yet most practices end
with games instead of beginning with them. Consider
flipping practices to start with semi-structured free
play. Set up small-sided fields, courts, or spaces and let
athletes arrive and play. Coaches should give minimal
instruction and simply support the flow of the games. After
10-15 minutes, then transition to structured portions of a
practice, before returning to game-like conditions.
3
. Promote Multi-Sport Athletes
.The consensus in the research is that specializing
in a single sport is not necessary before age 12 (aside
from sports in which athletes peak early, like figure
skating or gymnastics). Coaches should encourage
athletes to play multiple sports throughout adolescence.
Athletes who play multiple sports are less likely to get
overuse injuries or experience burnout.
Coaches can also emphasize transferable skills
between sports. For example, when teaching offense
in basketball, show how it is similar to attacking in
lacrosse. Similarly, defensive approaches in soccer
resemble tactics in hockey. Helping athletes build skills
that are beneficial across sports enhances their overall
athletic development. Transferable skills also make it
easier for athletes to pivot from one sport to another at
later stages of their development.
4
. Communicate When Scheduling
.One of the most critical ways coaches can support
the athletic development of their athletes is to be
mindful of other sports and activities when scheduling
their primary sport. Making an extra effort during
preseason to schedule around other sports enables an
athlete to participate in multiple sports longer, with
less stress. Let the in-season sport set a schedule and
carefully work in other sports.
Avoid forcing athletes to prematurely choose between
sports. Adolescents are not fully physically developed,
nor are they capable of making long-term decisions
under adult pressure. Exhaust the schedule possibilities
in a collaborative manner. Create ways for hockey
players to play recreational basketball in the winter
or for lacrosse players to still play club soccer in the
spring. Athletes and their families will appreciate the
opportunity to balance commitments. Don't forget to
take time off completely from each sport for rest and
recovery. Off-season is also a great time to cross-train
and build general athleticism.
5
. Understand Athletic Timelines
.Most kids drop out of sports by age 13, before
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