How Being A Multi-Sport Athlete Early On Benefits Your Swimming

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Photo Courtesy: Kim Padington

By Taylor Padington, Swimming World College Intern

Why is it that swimmers think that swimming is the only sport that they can do? I have heard this phrase time and time again: putting a swimmer on land is like take a fish out of the water. However, as I took a poll of the Boise State swim team, I found that all 20 girls played at least one other sport growing up and out of the entire team, 75 percent were involved in three or more sports.

In fact, it was through the playing of multiple sports that many of us found our love for swimming. So here is the fundamental question that must be asked: why is it important to be put in multiple sports, and not just swimming, at a young age?


Photo Courtesy: Kim Padington

One of the first reasons that young children should be involved in multiple sports is to promote a longer sports career. Children who choose to specialize in a sport at a very young age are at a high risk of burnout. Burnout can take the fun out of the sport and can result in talented children quitting the sport early in their careers.

Parents should also give their children a CHOICE to specialize. Choice is extremely important because it helps the child take ownership. When I was younger, I was put in five or more different sports and only started swimming because my parents loved to go to the lake. By being able to choose when I wanted to become more competitive in swimming, I was more intrinsically motivated and willing to put in the time and effort into achieving my goals. I know many other athletes who felt forced into the sport, which resulted in them dropping out or suffering through something they did not enjoy. By allowing a child to choose to swim, they will love swimming on their own terms and gain a sense of responsibility.


Photo Courtesy: Kim Padington

Swimming is a very repetitive sport; we work our muscles in the same way for hours on end as early as five years old. Allowing children to participate in multiple sports before specializing in swimming helps prevent injury through the overuse of such muscles commonly used in swimming.

Other sports can also help children develop coordination, balance, and motor skills that they would not acquire from being involved in just one sport. There are other directly transferable physical applications as well.

Boise State swimmer, Emily Mathis found that “ballet helped with flexibility which translated to breaststroke,” and Sam Wicks claimed that, “ballet helped with fluid movement.” Another Boise State Swimmer, Felicity Cann, pointed out that “participating in track helped with reaction times and speed in swimming.”

At a certain point in every young adolescent’s life, they will need to decide if they want to specialize in swimming. However, by allowing children to be exposed to multiple sports they will be able to see which one fits best. Just like my fellow teammate, Laura Williams stated, “I attempted track and tennis, which helped my realize that land sports weren’t for me!”


  1. Vicki Lynn

    I hear this all the time. Does this hold true for kids who were in multiple sports at a very young age but decided on their own at a very young age (8) to quit the other sports to focus on swim? What if you encourage them to add another sport but they have no desire? Do we force it on them or just go with the flow and follow their lead?

    • Emily Genthe May

      Vicki…I’ve read this before too and asked the same question. Emma did decide to try basketball this year, but swimming always takes the cake. I think so long as they are free to choose and are not pushed into one thing we are doing OK

    • Andrew Webber

      If they really want to do one single sport before age 14, it’s good to make sure they’re physically active away from that sport as well. Just general kids play and some stuff with parents like bike rides and walks.
      Probably the most important thing is to get them doing some general strength training as well. If the swimming club aren’t offering that then look for it elsewhere, preferably with a nsca qualified coach.
      Sorry if it says all that in the article, not read it yet.

    • Vicki Lynn

      Emily Genthe May , Exactly Emily! Swimming is number one and she ends up quiting everything else. We did dance last year or the year before because she BEGGED. 4 weeks in, she was already begging to skip dance so she didn’t have to miss any swim. LOL. Andrew, yes, she is very active doing other things as well. Up until recently, she’d do gymnastics and dancing hour on end (when not swimming) in our living room. From one end to the other. Drove us crazy, but she was super active and that’s all we cared about. Now that she’s getting older, and going through changes, she sleeps a lot when she’s not swimming.

  2. Rob Richardson

    Great article and that is our philosophy at Pitchfork Aquatics, Inc