NBA encourages kids to play multiple sports

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The best thing young players can do for their basketball careers is participate in other sports.

Those were among the guidelines announced Monday by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and USA Basketball to begin Jr. NBA Week. The Jr. NBA is the league's youth basketball program for boys and girls ages 6 to 14. The recommendations come from panels of medical experts, former players, and coaches and administrators throughout basketball.

They found that the most successful athletes played multiple sports at a young age and didn't focus on a specific one until late adolescence.

"The idea of sampling and participating in other sports does not mean you're getting behind," said Dr. John DiFiori. He is the NBA director of sports medicine and the University of California Los Angeles basketball team physician. "They actually provide a strong foundation for success in your sport."

Focusing On One Sport Has Drawbacks For Youths

LeBron James, perhaps the NBA's best player, played football through his junior year of high school. But those who focus on basketball too soon face some risks that can last well beyond their teen years.

"There's a concern that single sport specialization may contribute to injuries and may also contribute to basically loss of interest in the sport from sort of the repetition of incessant participation in one activity," DiFiori said. He added that some young athletes develop overuse injuries specific to a certain sport. These include shoulder problems from swimming or stress fractures from running.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has made player health one of his biggest concerns and is working to create a schedule that allows more time for rest and recovery. The league went further earlier this year by looking into youth sports.

Guidelines Created To Benefit Young Athletes

The NBA put together groups of experts to look at health and wellness, playing standards, and curriculum and instruction. They came up with guidelines that stressed the importance of time away from the court. Their recommendations include amount of practice and game time, and even amount of sleep.

"I think sometimes parents and coaches can forget that there are only so many hours in the day and that when you have someone who's going to high school and they're at school from 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock, or to 3 o'clock and then they're at practice for a couple of hours," DiFiori said. "They need time to study, they need time to eat, they need time to commute back and forth to school and practices, they need time to sleep."

He added that kids also need time to recover. "It's important that people actually look at that and realize that you can't pack everything into one day and still necessarily have a healthy situation."

Limiting "High-Density Competition"

The guidelines suggest limiting "high-density competition," such as tournaments that feature multiple games in a short period of time.

DiFiori noted the guidelines apply only to organized competition, saying that individual practice time or pickup games are fine. The guidelines have been endorsed by numerous youth organizations, sports apparel companies and supported by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

"We're sending a message to families, young athletes, coaches about rethinking how we do things at the youth level," he said.






Why Kids Shouldn’t Specialize in One Sport

In a move that surprised many sports parents, last week the USTA, NFL, MLB, NHL, NCAA, U.S. Olympic Committee and three dozen other leading sports organizations joined forces to speak out against the popular “early specialization” trend in youth sports, where children under 12 focus intensively on one sport, at the exclusion of others, year-round.

In an ad that appeared in SportsBusiness Journal, a leading trade journal, the group highlighted the risks of early specialization in developing bodies and encouraged instead a multi-sport approach, which “can lead to better performance, less burnout, less social isolation, and, most importantly, more lifelong enjoyment in sports.”

Image courtesy of SportsBusiness Journal

“We hope that by coming out and saying multi-sport play is really what’s best for children, that parents and coaches will be better educated and will end this growing trend,” said Sue Hunt, chief marketing officer at the USTA, which spearheaded the ad. “Early specialization and winning is really about the parents,” Hunt told me. “The kids just want to have fun.”

Each year an estimated 30-40 million children play youth sports — but it’s a different game than their parents played. Gone are the days of casual after school pick-up games. In today’s competitive childhood, youth sports have become adult-led, professionalized and focused on winning, which has led an increasing number of children, some as young as 7 or 8, to specialize early to better compete.

“Sports have become another way for parents to keep up with the Jones, and it’s damaging childhoods,” said John O’ Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, an organization focused on youth sports. He told me families who can afford it supplement practices with private coaching, anything for an edge that could one day lead to an athletic scholarship or a leg up on the competitive college admissions process.

Even parents who aren’t looking to create the next Tiger Woods feel like they have no choice but to reluctantly buy into the trend. “The most common fear I hear among parents is that if they don’t specialize early, their children will fall behind and never catch up,” said O’Sullivan.

But does early specialization build a better athlete?

Growing research suggests it doesn’t.

In fact, the well-rounded athlete may be the one most likely to succeed. Studies of college-level and Olympic athletes found that the majority of them played multiple sports growing up and did not specialize early. In a study published last year, researchers surveyed 708 minor league baseball players and found that only 25 percent of them specialized in baseball before age 12. In fact, those who specialized later were actually more likely to win college scholarships.

“Early specialization may enhance a skill but it does not enhance athleticism like practicing multiple sports can,” said lead researcher Richard Ginsburg, a sports psychologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School.

Research shows there are physical risks involved with specialization. In a recent study involving nearly 1,200 young athletes at two Chicago-area sports clinics, researchers found that those athletes who specialized in one sport for eight months or more a year (at the exclusion of others) had a significantly higher risk of stress fractures and other severe overuse injuries. Young athletes who played more hours per week of sports than their age (as in a 9-year-old playing more than 9 hours a week) were more likely to be injured, and athletes who spent more than twice the time playing organized sports than free play were more likely to have serious overuse injuries.

And then there is the emotional toll early specialization can bring. “I’ve seen the damage it can do to the parent-child relationship when a child thinks their parent’s love is tied to winning,” said O’Connell.

Why are we putting this pressure on our kids, he said, when only a small percentage will play in college and an even smaller percentage will play professionally?

“We need to give sports back to our children,” said O’Connell,” and give them back the childhoods they deserve.”

Here are tips for making sports a positive experience:

    • Be a cheerleader, not a coach. Resist the post-game analysis. “Parental praise opens the doors of communication and motivates,” said Sally Johnson, executive director of the National Council of Youth Sports. Criticism can do the opposite.
  • Encourage sports sampling. “Different personalities, abilities and developmental levels might be a better match with different sports,” Johnson told me. Multi-sport play has also been found to reduce burnout and overuse injuries.
  • Set Limits. Athletes should take at least one to two days off per week from competitive athletics, sport-specific training, and competitive practice (scrimmage), and a total of 2 to 3 months off per year from a specific sport, according to American Academy of Pediatric guidelines.
  • Watch for Burnout. Burnout, simply put, is mental and physical exhaustion. Watch for signs like nonspecific muscle or joint problems, fatigue or poor academic performance.
  • Make time for free play. Child-initiated free play, like after school pick-up games, helps to build social and emotional skills and can be an important tool for preventing overuse injuries.
  • Find the right program. Your goal as a parent is to find athletic experiences that encourage positive lessons, like sportsmanship, teamwork, and cooperation, said Johnson. “Sports should bring out the best in your children,” she said, “and the best in your relationship with them.”


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Why Playing Multiple Sports—Not Just One—Is Best for Kids

In this day and age when trophies and scholarships dominate youth athletics, kids are being pushed to specialize in a single sport as early as their pre-teen years. Driven by the professionalization of youth sports, coaches and parents alike have turned their focus to making kids young experts in their sport of choice.

"It'll help prevent injury," some explain. Others caution that without specialization, kids will "fall behind" or be unable to "play at the next level."

But these claims are nothing more than myths that are often at odds with the well-being of our children. In reality, countless benefits of playing multiple sports are being forgotten in the midst of the specialization craze. For starters, improving fitness, motivation, confidence and creativity. But perhaps more importantly: playing for the sake of the game itself and in doing so, having some plain and simple, old-fashioned fun.

It's time to put the myths to bed. In reality, kids only stand to gain from playing multiple sports. Here's why:

1. Specializing actually leads to greater chance of injuries.

Instead of sharpening their overall athleticism in a well-rounded way, specialized athletes are repeating the same movements with the same sets of muscles every day of the week. This has led to a dramatic rise in the need for Tommy John surgery and reconstructive surgery of elbow ligaments—to cite just two examples.

2. Sports skills and athletic movements transfer.

Jumping for a basketball works the same muscles swimmers use to push off the starting blocks and develop a strong kick. A full 87 percent of 2015 NFL draft picks were multi-sport athletes, and the average number of multi-sport athletes in the NFL hovers around 70 percent. It's not surprising when you consider that quickness, running, jumping, agility, throwing and countless other moves are all transferable skills.

3. Multi-sport athletes learn to compete.

Each sport requires its own unique levels of focus and resiliency. Some games, like baseball, are more drawn out and require long-term attention punctuated with quick action. Other sports are all about pacing and endurance. The broader the exposure young athletes get to these different conditions, the better. Resiliency and focus, too, are transferable skills.

4. Multi-sport athletes have a greater sports I.Q.

They develop a feel for any game they are playing. Ever heard about football players taking ballet classes? This helps not just to transfer athletic movements, but also to enhance their appreciation for different types of movements. Thanks to cross-training, multi-sport athletes are overall more creative and less mechanical in their approach.

5. Burnout becomes less frequent in multi-sport athletes.

It doesn't take long for kids to fizzle from going to five must-do showcase events and traveling every weekend in the summer. Ultimately, they stop enjoying the process. The balance and variety that comes from playing multiple sports offers keeps young athletes alert, engaged and, literally, on their toes.

6. Multi-sport athletes are better teammates.

They've got lots of experience at it! They're used to interacting with a variety of teammates and coaches within different contexts. This is priceless training for athletics of all sorts and life.

Remember, too: grit, tenacity and the will to compete are traits that transfer across all sports. In applying the essential lessons from one sport to others, kids are better athletes overall. Cultivating these while building character is the true purpose of youth sports, which above all serves as a metaphor for life.

Rob Bell, Ph.D., is a sport psychology coach and owner of DRB & Associates, where he works with athletes, coaches and teams, including at Notre Dame University, on achieving peak performance. He is the author of "Don't 'Should' On Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness," co-authored with Bill Parisi.

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Learning about your new team

Basketball season is upon us and I am signed up again to coach a young girls basketball team. The subject of “creating culture” has been buzzing as of late, so I thought I would share a couple notes on ways I have found to create a fun and successful culture. Over the next few weeks I will share strategies about setting expectations, handing out rewards for behavior and performance, and how to increase the level of effort your athletes put in at practice and at games. As always, I encourage your feedback and hope you will share with me strategies you have found to be successful.

Learning about your team.

Whether you are a seasoned coach or you just bought your first whistle on the way to practice, getting to know your players should be a very high priority. Don’t rush this experience. It may take 10 minutes; it may take 45 minutes of practice. Either way, let it happen. On the first or second practice, sit the team down in a circle and get to know them. The goal is to learn about your team and the individuals you will be serving over the next few months. The strategy is to ask a few simple questions from which you will be able to gather insight about your athletes. When you ask these questions on the first few days of practice, be warned, they may be shy. The secret is to make them feel like they are in a safe environment. As the coach, you set the tone for the team culture. If they are not ready, smile, let them know you will come back to them, and move to the next one. Have patience. Resist the urge to interrupt or lead them to answer a certain way. They need to know they are safe, then I promise, you won’t be able to keep them quiet!

  1. What is your name?

    • Have them spell it and ask them what they would like to be called. If you want to shorten it (Jennifer to Jen, Courtney to Court, Shannon to Shay, etc) then ask them. They may like the idea of a different name they are used to, then again, they may not. But ask, first.

  2. What is your athletic experience?

    • If they have played another sport, ask them if they can think of a way the skills they use in that other sport will help them in basketball. If they can make a connection between basketball and another sport they have played then you have begun to build their confidence, especially in an inexperienced player.

  3. What is the one thing, above all else, you want to get better at throughout the season?

    • When they tell you how they want to improve, what they are really giving you is permission to push them in specific areas. One girl wants to get better at free throws because she got fouled a lot last season. Now that she has vocalized it, when you ask her to stay after practice and shoot 20 free throws she is happy to do it. Another girl wants to get better at dribbling, so you have her do some extra dribbling drills for 5 minutes before practice starts and she loves the idea.

What to do while they talk

Write down their answers. You now have three valuable bits of information. One, you know what to call your athlete. Honor the name they give you and use it often. Two, you know what skills each player has and that can give you an understanding of the player. For example, last year I had four athletes who had never played basketball before. However, they had years of soccer experience. I went online and looked for soccer drills I could turn into basketball drills. The girls saw the connection right away and it helped them feel more confident during those drills because they were familiar to them. I even told the girls what I had done and I could tell they appreciated the effort. And three, you know what you can keep them accountable for. When you set up a drill that hits one of the specific goals one of the girls wants to improve upon, spend a little extra time with her. Don’t make it a big deal, just quietly walk up to her…

“Hey, I remember this is one of the things you wanted to improve upon. How do you think you are doing?” Then wait for the response. Be patient.

Those simple, quiet moments you have with an athlete are the moments they will remember for the rest of their lives.


The Value of Playing Multiple Sports

Leslie Osborne is a former professional soccer player and PCA National Advisory Board member. She began her career at Santa Clara University, playing for PCA National Advisory Board Member Jerry Smith (@SCUJerrySmith). During her collegiate career she won an NCAA championship and was honored with the Honda Sports Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding collegiate female athlete. After college, she became a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team and played for several women’s professional soccer league teams before retiring in 2014.

Playing multiple sports as a kid helped Osborne excel and reach an elite level of soccer. She was able to build muscle strength and skills from basketball and tennis that aided her soccer abilities. She also reaped the benefits of playing both individual and team sports, because the different mentalities taught her how to optimize performance. She also attributes a lack of injury during her youth sports days to playing multiple sports, as she was less subject to overuse injury.

Anecdotally, she shares that 19 out of 20 players on the US National Team during her tenure reported having played multiple sports until their senior year of high school. That is a convincing statistic on the power of young athletes avoiding early specialization!

(This article was published by/on: )

The Talent Code

About 5 years ago I read a very interesting book called, “Mind Set: The New Psychology of Success.” Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success – a simple idea that makes all the difference. Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. 

So I was very interested to read last week, on one of my favorite basketball websites, “Coaches Clipboard at:, an article that referenced Carol Dweck’s work and how it relates to teaching and coaching. Carol Dweck’s work is referenced in a book by Daniel Coyle called “The Talent Code.” This excerpt is about praising children and as Mike McNeill the author of “Coaches Clipboard writes, this is an absolute must read for coaches and teachers if you are serious about motivating children to be their best. 



___ ___

Excerpt from “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle

The boing phenomenon can be seen most vividly in a series of experiments Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck did with four hundred New York fifth graders. The study was scientific version of the fable “The Princess and the Pea.” Its goal was to see how much a tiny signal – a signal sentence of praise – can affect performance and effort, and what kind of signal is most effective. 

First, Dweck gave every child a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. Afterward the researcher informed all the children of their scores, adding a single six-word sentence of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”), and half were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”). 

The kids were tested a second time, but this time they were offered a choice between a harder test and an easier test. Ninety percent of the kids who’d been praised for their effort chose the harder test. A majority of the kids who’d been praised for their intelligence, on the other hand, chose the easy test. Why? “When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote, “we tell them that’s the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” 
The third level of tests was uniformly harder; none of the kids did well. However, the two groups of kids – the praised-for-effort group and the praised-for-intelligence group – responded very differently to the situation. “(The effort group) dug in and grew very involved with the test, trying solutions, testing strategies,” Dweck said. “They later said they liked it. But the group praised for its intelligence hated the harder test. They took it as proof they weren’t smart.” 
The experiment then came full circle, returning to a test of the same difficulty as the initial test. The praised-for-effort group improved their initial score by 30 percent, while the praised-for-intelligence group’s score declined by 20 percent. All because of six short words. Dweck was so surprised at the result that she reran the study five times. Each time the result was the same. 

…. Several paragraphs later

When we use the term motivational language, we are generally referring to language that speaks of hopes, dreams, and affirmations (“You are the best!”). This kind of language – let’s call it high motivation – has its role. But the message from Dweck and the hotbeds is clear: high motivation is not the kind of language that ignites people. What works is precisely the opposite: not reaching up but reaching down, speaking to the ground-level effort, affirming the struggle. Dweck’s research shows that phrases like “Wow, you really tried hard,” or “Good job, dude,” motivate far better than what she calls empty praise. 
From the myelin point of view, this conclusion makes sense. Praising effort works because it reflects biological reality. The truth is, skill circuits are not easy to build; deep practice requires serious effort and passionate work. The truth is, when you are starting out, you do not “play” tennis; you struggle and fight and pay attention and slowly get better. The truth is, we learn in staggering-baby steps. Effort-based language works because it speaks directly to the core of the learning experience, and when it comes to ignition, there’s nothing more powerful. 
p. 135-13


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