The cross-pollination success stories of Irish sport are well-documented, from Kieran Donaghy’s basketball skills finding a home on the turf of Croke Park to Lindsay Peat also succeeding in basketball and Gaelic football, as well as rugby.
We are accustomed, now, to the benefits of diversification of sport for young athletes, but could we be doing more to ensure unnecessary specification doesn’t happen? Former Olympic sprinters Dr. Tom Comyns and Gary Ryan joined us on Wednesday’s OTB AM to talk about their experiences coaching Munster rugby and Tipperary hurling respectively.
For Dr. Comyns, there is no question that a mixture of skills leads to a bigger potential for accomplishment in young sportspeople.
“Any child or any youth should be sampling all these different sports and having the opportunity to just be engaged,” he says.
“Even if they play rugby and end up being a sprinter, they’ll build up skills from rugby such as endurance, resilience, goal-setting that they can apply to other sports. It is a massive issue at the moment where kids are just doing one or two sports or in certain areas where that’s the only sport.
“If they’re in a school, for example, and that school is very soccer-focused or rugby-focused, they’ll probably tend towards that sport only.”
Many studies have shown that motor skills from one sport can be easily transferred to another discipline, but Gary Ryan believes there are also huge benefits mentally to the variety that comes with diversification.
“I think it’s important you do all of these things (at a younger age) and then start to specialise more,” he told us.
“Those that I’ve met and talked to that are likely to be successful as adults are ones who’ve done more sports at a young age because they haven’t had 20 years of just the one sport and it’s something that’s probably still exciting and fresh to them.”
On top of this, the national health benefits that could indirectly come from a greater emphasis on playing a multitude of sports would be significant, according to Ryan:
“Getting kids active and more active more often means they de-mystify being physically active, and the more people that are physically active, that pool increases the amount of people that might come through at performance level, as well.”
This is a subject that has been discussed on the show before, with Tipperary footballer Michael Quinlivan last September saying specialisation happens in this country far too young. "In Ireland, you have to be the complete footballer at 13 years of age," he said.
There are many examples of cross-pollination in Irish and global sport, as evidenced in our Twitter mentions this morning:
@gergilroy @EoinSheahan huge emphasis every Saturday in training Kerry under 14 development squads in running technique. Kids who have a background in athletics stand out like a sore thumb, for good reasons, on a pitch.
— Testosterone Patches (@Digger_forum) January 23, 2019
Lomachenko, the worlds best boxer started in gymnastics and credits it for a lot of his ability
— Andy Lee (@AndyLeeBoxing) January 23, 2019
But the question can always be asked: Should we be doing more in this country to realise that our sports complement one another rather than threaten one another? Even if extra funding and a bigger population would undoubtedly help, could we still be doing more to ensure our current resources are allowing young sportspeople to get the best out of themselves?
Gary Ryan and Dr. Tom Comyns were speaking this at the announcement of Irish Life Health as an official partner to Athletics Ireland. Irish Life Health are backing athletics as a sport that delivers on health, wellness and lifelong activity.