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Mailbag of Champions: November Edition

Welcome to the second edition of Play Like a Champion's "Mailbag of Champions"! With more than enough questions to answer, we're back for another month. A reminder that each month we'll take a few of the questions we get from our partners and put them to our experts so we can share their answers with everyone (note: we'll protect your identity and won't share any confidential information). Have a question for a future mailbag? Scroll to the bottom for info on how to drop us a line via email or social media!

Let's dive in to this month's mailbag. As always, these are real questions asked by administrators, coaches, parents and student-athletes...

Q: My diocese does not seem to value youth sports as highly as I think they should. How do I demonstrate the importance of what we're doing to develop and minister to our kids? ~ CYO Director in the South

Answer from Kristin Sheehan, Program Director of Play Like a Champion

We understand your concern and we share your frustration! We often feel this way ourselves as we work to provide the best sport experience to our country’s youth. Working with so many Catholic dioceses, we see first-hand that when a diocese’s clergy and Bishop support the laity in promoting a positive sport culture that is character-focused and faith-based, the results are incredible for children. We also often witness the reverse, sports directors are begging their clergy and Bishop to witness the good that sports can do to evangelize and reach our youth in a special way and they feel like they are getting no recognition. Our advice is to request a meeting with your Bishop to share with him what you do for the diocese. I imagine you are aware of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, Family & Life release of Giving the Best of Yourself: a Document on the Christian Perspective on Sport and the Human Person. Believed to be the first document dedicated to sports released by the Vatican, it recognizes the deep connection between Christianity and sport while emphasizing the immense impact of sport in our world today. [Pope Francis even wrote a letter on the importance of this document. We have learned that most Bishops are not even aware of the Vatican and Pope Francis’ strong support of sport to develop our youth. Share this good news with your Bishop! Urge him to share this message with his diocesan clergy. You need the support of your Church leadership because what you provide for your youth is beautiful and we thank you for leading sports in your diocese! You can also share with your Bishop this One Page Action Plan that recommends ways in our church should approach sport and encourages everyone to respond in their own communities. God Bless your work. Play Like a Champion applauds and highly values what you provide for children. Thank you!

Q: My 11 year old daughter is a really good soccer player and recently some of the best clubs in our area started recruiting her to play for them. The problem is, they want her to commit to them year-round and stop playing other sports. She's always enjoyed playing basketball and softball as well, but they tell her if she wants to play in high school & college she needs to focus on soccer now. What should we do? ~ Soccer Mom from California

Answer from Kristin Sheehan, Program Director of Play Like a Champion

Play Like a Champion supports youth playing multiple sports. All the research points to this being the best course for athletes mind, body and spirit. We subscribe to the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model which is sport science that tells us a long-term commitment is required to produce elite athletes. Athletes progress through age-appropriate stages in LTAD. Within LTAD, an 11 year old is only at Stage 2: the “Training to Train Stage” which encourage athletics to be varied and to be fun while teaching the fundamentals of physical movement: strength, speed, agility and flexibility and beginning to introduce sport-specific plays. The research points to the fact that if athletes do not progress naturely through the stages or move through them too quickly, they will not reach their fullest potential as an athlete. Sport scientists note that Stage 1 (FUNdamental Stage) and Stage 2 are the most important stages to ensure athletes peak performance when they are high school and college age.

The American Medical Association does not recommend specializing in a sport until after puberty. Sports specialization has been defined as intensive, year-round training in a single sport at the exclusion of other sports (Jayanthi et al, 2013). Sports medicine/science experts have found that there has been an increase in sports specialization over the years which in turn increases the risk of injury and burnout in young athletes. An 11 year old’s body is simply not able to withstand the physical demands of a playing one sport and an 11 year old’s brain prefers variety for maximum learning. Additionally, significant financial resources and time are often allocated by families to support specialized training patterns (Jayanthi et al, 2018). Which is quite unnecessary.

Even after puberty, all the experts and Play Like a Champion recommend playing multiple sports so that young people exercise different muscles, interact with teammates in diverse social ways, learn to think differently with each sport and have the fun of experiencing varied movement activities. Check out these 10 Benefits of Multi Sport Participation from the NCAA Sport Science Institute:

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