Money at Play·Analysis

More is more: Athletes may benefit from multi-sport training

Early sport specialization is often sold to the masses as the only way to become a champion, but a training program that incorporates multiple sports can pay off too, writes Deidra Dionne.

Specialization not the only path to success

Multi-sport star Heather Moyse won a pair of Olympic bobsleigh gold medals and also played for the Canadian women's rugby team. (Getty Images)

A common line of thinking in sports is "the more the better" — more training, more practice, more repetition.

The idea of "more" shapes the way in which athletes train, to the point where that mentality carried by high-performance athletes seems to trickle down into a system where early sport specialization is often sold to the masses as the only way to become a champion.

More camps, more hours, more repetition. It's the path to greatness. Or is it?

Like every trend in business, when the pendulum shifts too far to one side, it tends to correct itself.

Veteran strength and conditioning coach Matt Nichol is one of those who sees value in a more well-rounded approach to training.

"We incorporate other sports. We do gymnastics, we work in the sand, I've even taken athletes to the National School of Ballet," says Nichol, a top trainer of pro hockey players who counts numerous NHLers among his clients. "The fundamentals of movement translate to their hockey training and have the added benefit of being new and interesting.

"There's no doubt, early specialization is unavoidable in some sports and each sport is unique. But personally, I always recommend kids stay multi-sport athletes or, at the very least, incorporate other sports and movement into their training."

Georgia Simmerling has represented Canada at the Olympic in three different sports — cycling, alpine skiing and ski cross. (Callum Ng/CBC Sports)

New school

Building good athletes, not just good hockey players, is something Brad Layzell and his team at PX3 AMP in Calgary strive to do.

A former member of the Canadian national team, Layzell encourages kids in his three-day-a-week program to participate in other sports. They also spend one of their three sessions off the ice, learning a complimentary foundational sport with the help of a multi-discipline advisory board that includes Olympic bobsleigh gold medalist Kaillie Humphries and former Alpine Canada president Max Gartner.

"We just finished learning to wrestle," Layzell says. "The idea is that the hockey players will learn how to better take a fall. We bring in the best coaching professionals from other sports to teach proper foundational athleticism. They've learned how to run, jump and throw a baseball, all from the best in their respective sports. The principles of those movements will help them later on, either in their hockey career or in whatever sport they choose."

Other sports are also seeing a move away from specialization.

This past September marked the start of the inaugural year for the High Performance Athlete Development Pathway at Bowness High School in Calgary. 

"We are the first of our kind," says school coordinator Brian Taylor. "We are different than your typical sport school where students are more typically one-sport elite athletes. We have some national-team athletes but also a body of students that aren't attached to any specific sport. They are looking to develop as athletes, get exposure to high-performance coaching in numerous sports and, mostly, develop a love for the game."

The school makes use of the rich array of facilities located in Calgary and has partnered with the likes of the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary and several national sport organizations to give students exposure and access to top facilities, high-performance coaching and sport science.

"We recently did 10 sessions of fundamental movement with world-renowned track coach Les Gramantik. Those types of sessions are complimented by one week of immersion activity like bobsled and skeleton, speed skating and cycling," Taylor says.

With multi-sport athletes like Georgia Simmerling and Heather Moyse hitting the podium at the elite level and late-specialization athletes like Andre De Grasse also excelling these days, the way in which our system values foundational athleticism continues to evolve.

You might even say "more" now has a broader definition than just increasing hours and repetitions.


Deidra Dionne is Director, Business Affairs at Rogers Media. Her unique outlook on the business of sport stems from her experience as a two-time Olympian and Olympic medallist in freestyle skiing aerials, and from her education and experience as a lawyer in the sport and entertainment industry.


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