Playing multiple sports more beneficial for young children

Students from a basketball team having training at a secondary school. PHOTO: ST FILE

I thank Ms Priscilla Ang Ee Lin for highlighting the international athletes who played multiple sports at a young age (Let children try different sports to groom better athletes, July 22).

In Singapore, many of our successful athletes have also benefited from multi-sport exposure during their developmental years.

There is scientific evidence to show that successful elite athletes in most sports specialised at a later age and trained less in childhood. In addition, children who play multiple sports between the ages of six and 12 develop stronger fundamental motor skills, aerobic fitness and confidence.

Children who specialise in a single sport before the age of 12 are more likely to undergo a high volume of training, and are more susceptible to burnout and overuse injuries. Studies show that those who participate in sports more hours per week than their age, or train intensely for more than 16 hours a week, should be monitored closely to mitigate the risk of overuse injury.

There are some sports where early specialisation is acceptable during pre-adolescent stages because peak performance takes place in the teenage years.

These sports include gymnastics, diving and figure skating.

However, the majority of sports are classified as "late specialisation", including athletics, badminton and team sports such as basketball and football.

The Junior Sports Academy programme, developed by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI), is based on the principle that playing multiple sports is more beneficial for young children.

The programme enables about 1,600 Primary 4 to 6 pupils to play four sports over a two-year period before they choose their co-curricular activity in secondary school.

Outside of school sports, the ActiveSG academies and clubs also provide children with the opportunity to participate in a diverse range of sports and physical activities.

The NYSI also provides support to high-performing youth athletes who specialise later or choose to switch sports. Our aim is to help these athletes maximise their potential so that they can go on to excel for Singapore at major games and international competitions.

Youth athletes can take varied developmental pathways. Hence, it is important to give them the opportunity to develop at their own pace, and in their sport of choice.

Matthew Wylde

Head for Performance Pathways and Talent Identification, Development and Selection

National Youth Sports Institute

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2019, with the headline Playing multiple sports more beneficial for young children. Subscribe