Fitness, For Parents

Make Sure Your Kids Play These 2 Sports … In Addition to Soccer


A couple of months ago I got the great news that I am going to be an uncle! Of course, because I work with athletes, I immediately began planning the athletic future of my young unborn niece or nephew (that’s normal right)?

It occurred to me that, although the child will definitely be playing soccer (that will not be up for debate), he/she should probably be playing other sports in addition to soccer, in order to become more well-rounded athletically.  This idea is certainly not unique (many countries’ national soccer/football federations, including the Canadian Soccer Association, advocate for young players to participate in a variety of sports and athletic activities, and to delay specializing in soccer until at least the age of 14, if not later).  But what sport(s) should you choose?  Are some better than others?  And which ones, if any, will help the most with soccer?  Below are the 2 sports I think all young soccer players should participate in, to maximize the development of their athletic ability and make the most of their free non-soccer time:

1. Gymnastics and/or Martial Arts:

I believe these sports are the best to help young athletes/soccer players to develop strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, and basic motor skills, that do not necessarily develop fully when only playing soccer.  A lot of the work we do at Soccer Fitness is with young (ages 8-10) players, and I can tell you that the ones who participate in gymnastics, or a martial art like karate for example, are by far stronger, more flexible, and more coordinated than their peers.  The development of good strength-to-body weight ratios (a staple of gymnastics and martial arts because of all the push-ups, squats, etc..) in conjunction with lots of flexibility training, is very useful for soccer players, for both performance enhancement, as well as to prevent future over-use injuries that are common in soccer from a lack of flexibility.  Furthermore, these sports also teach unique coordination, including how to land from jumps, and how to roll/fall on the ground, which adds another, perhaps more helpful aspect to the prevention of injuries caused by landing or falling to the ground (also common in soccer players).

2. Cross-Country Running and Track & Field:

This one is a bit more personal for me, because I ran cross country and track in elementary and high school, and I know first-hand the benefits that middle distance running has for soccer.  Without getting into all the specifics, the reality is that adult soccer at the higher levels (university, and professional) requires a lot of high intensity running, and if players are unable to sustain a high-enough work rate, they will not be able to play the game at these levels.  The development of a strong aerobic base is essential for the ability to perform a lot of high intensity running in soccer.  Of course, this aerobic base can be developed without doing middle distance running, however, it would require participating in several high-intensity soccer practices per week, which most players do not do.  Even the few who do train/play soccer everyday typically do not train at the intensity that would be required to actually improve aerobic endurance.  Running competitively on school teams forces players to accumulate this high-intensity running training that will directly translate to players doing more fast running during games.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

4 thoughts on “Make Sure Your Kids Play These 2 Sports … In Addition to Soccer


      Thanks Nick!
      I actually think it would be worthwhile for clubs to make participation in gymnastics and cross-country running programs, either through school or and after-school program, mandatory for their higher-level (eg: OPDL) players.

  1. Darren

    Hi Richard, just checking out your blog for the first time. Lots of great content!

    Couldn’t agree more about martial arts and gymnastics, especially gymnastics, at least from my own anecdotal observations. My kids have all been doing martial arts (both karate and Brazilian jujitsu) training since they were toddlers. A few years ago my daughters had an opportunity to train with Georges St-Pierre. One of the things he spoke about during the session was that he considered gymnasts to be the very best athletes in the world (especially in terms of strength, power, balance and flexibility), and how he utilized a lot of gymnastics training in his own training (he even called it his secret weapon). Around that time my oldest daughter was struggling a bit with her soccer. While she was a very good technical player, some of her physical limitations were undermining how effective she was on the pitch. She added 2 days per week of gymnastics training, and after one year, the transformation was remarkable. She is still typically the smallest player in any match, but the improvement in balance and strength has allowed her to become very strong on the ball, and to win the majority of her 50/50 battles. I have also seen a huge improvement in her ability to accelerate, and to quickly change directions. As for martial arts, I have seen my kids utilize their ‘break-falls’ on a number of occasions to avoid what would have otherwise been a pretty nasty thud.

    The sport I personally enjoy the most is basketball, and I think it is highly underrated in terms of crossover benefit for soccer. Spacing and angles are a huge part of basketball, and because basketball is by its very nature small sided and high paced, basketball players learn very early about distance and angles of support, transition, isolation, and taking advantage of overload situations. Basketball also is huge in the use of disguise, which I believe is underutilized in soccer, especially when it comes to distribution of the ball. That’s why I get my kids, who unfortunately don’t play basketball, to at least watch Magic Johnson videos on youtube!



      Hi Darren,
      thanks very much for your reply and feedback. I agree that basketball can also have a great cross-over effect. I suppose the same could be said about other sports, such as rugby, handball, even ice hockey (for different reasons). In a broader sense, I like to encourage participation in several different sports, while still maintaining a focus on soccer. The Magic Johnson videos are also crucial!

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