What do I do?
My daughter’s primary sport is soccer and she’s obsessed – but she loves karate, too. Every winter I can see her balk: Is it OK for me to hang up my cleats for a a couple months of working toward that black belt? Can she really afford to take a break from soccer and remain as competitive as she wants to be?
Coach Andy says:
My answer is a resounding yes. I’ll use my own 11-year-old daughter Lily as an example. Lily’s first love is soccer (surprise, surprise) and she plays on a competitive team during the fall and spring seasons.
But she also plays basketball and squash, not to mention loves to snow ski during the winter, and I could not support her breaks during the off-season more enthusiastically. In some ways it keeps her even better focused on soccer, not to mention in great shape. Here are a few reasons why exposure to other sports is so smart.
- Staying healthy. There is no question that kids who play competitive sports can put a lot of strain on their developing bodies. While exercise is, of course, vital to physical health, too much of anything can stress young joints and growing limbs. I see a lot of repetitive strain injury and playing a different sport – be it martial arts or something else – will help by using different muscle groups. Plus, cross training is great at any age.
- Learning from another sport. Lily started playing basketball during the last two winters and I can already see how much she benefits from the experience. It has taught her new and different elements that she’s applied to soccer – the quick passing and moving up the court, for example, translate perfectly to indoor soccer. With karate, the exceptional level of fine motor control required could help your daughter with some of the smaller movements in soccer – dribbling, cutting and balance, for instance. The greater her range of knowledge, the better athlete she’ll become, no matter the sport.
- Mental health. It requires a lot of time, practice and commitment to play sports these days, so taking a breather can keep everything fresh. At the most basic level, just being excited to see your coaches and teammates again after a hiatus can be the difference between the thrill of competition or the slog of exhaustion. Also, it’s important to hear from a new coach who teaches with a new method – and to exercise your brain in a different way. In martial arts, for example, there’s a huge emphasis on focusing and slowing down the mind in order to accelerate reaction times. If that’s not helpful on the soccer field, I don’t know what is!
All that said, it’s still crucial to keep up the basic skills of the primary sport. Lily keeps a toe into soccer during the winter in the form of practices, indoor tournaments and, when she can, some technical training. It means that when she rejoins her team, she doesn’t have to start from scratch. But I can’t reiterate it more: As long as you don’t check out completely, don’t be afraid to take that break!