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Athlete Development: The benefits of being a multi-sport athlete with Madison Willan

Women’s National Team athlete Madison Willan knows a thing or two about playing multiple sports at a high level. A member of our national team program since 2017, Willan has been playing multiple sports her whole life. 

A three-time Esso Cup national hockey champion (2016-2018) on the ice, Willan joined the University of Alberta women’s hockey program in 2019 where in 28 games of the Pandas’ season she scored 11 goals and 25 points to earn Canada West and U Sports Rookie of the Year. 

On the diamond, Willan has been a mainstay with Baseball Alberta’s women’s baseball program for years winning national championship silver in 2017 and bronze medals in 2018 and ‘19.

She got her first taste of international competition with the Women’s National Team program in 2017 at the Canada/USA Series before helping Canada win bronze medals at the 2018 WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup and the COPABE Women’s Baseball Pan Am Championships a year later homering in the bronze clinching victory that booked Canada a spot in the next world cup.

For good measure, she also took home the Ladies Championship at her home golf club, The Derrick Club, last summer and was also active in soccer, badminton and tennis growing up in her hometown of Edmonton.

Safe to say that “Maddie” can offer some advice on playing multiple sports and how they’ve helped make her the successful athlete that she is today.

“Coaches often are looking for intangibles in players but those intangibles come through experience,” offered Willan. “The more varied and competitive experience an athlete accumulates the better equipped the athlete will be able to reach their potential.” 

According to Statistics Canada, the amount of youth in Canada participating in multiple sports has dwindled since 1992. It’s more important than ever for young athletes and their families to realize the importance of not specializing in just one sport.

Maddie offers these three tips as benefits of being a multi-sport athlete and how playing one sport can help you succeed in others.

Dealing with Adversity and Avoiding Burnout

“I’ve had to deal with a high number of intense competitive moments where the stakes are at their highest, with some success and some failure,” she said. “But these experiences have equipped me for the emotional challenges of high-level competition.” 

Willan describes the adversity she has experienced in different sports settings has made her more mentally strong.

“Playing multiple sports is a great way for an athlete to avoid getting burned out of a certain sport,” she explains.

According to BMJ Journals Athletes who play only one sport as opposed to two could be more likely to sustain injuries due to “Sports Specialization.” 

Playing and training for only one sport all year round can lead to burnout and injury due to overuse. Compared to training in multiple sports when you can utilize different skills and areas of your body to strengthen your overall athletic “toolkit”.

Time Management and Competitive Mindset 

Willan explains how playing multiple sports for the majority of her life has helped her gain better time management skills which has in return helped her in both her personal life and athletic journey.

“As you get older, time management only gets more important,” explained Willan. “Continuing to play more than one sport at an elite level is not for everyone as you have an intense schedule that must be adhered to.” 

Willan also notes a benefit of being a multi-sport athlete is the diverse amount of competitive situations an athlete can experience. 

“I can stay in a competitive state year round to give me a mental advantage,” she says. “Without ever really having to go through an off season training period and jumping from one highly competitive season to another, I’m able to stay mentally sharp in different sports.”

Transferable Athletic Skills

With the wide range of athletic skills that can be found in one sport to another, playing two or more sports allows athletes to learn new training methods that may have crossover training to other sports.

Willan says her hand eye coordination has “improved dramatically from skills like deflecting pucks in hockey to fielding and hitting in baseball”, she has also found new ways to enhance certain skills due to being a multi-sport athlete.

She also notes that she’s able to stay in shape by training different parts of the body at different times like cardio and endurance for hockey where explosive speed helps on the ice and getting out of the batter’s box to beat out an infield single or getting to a ball hit up-the-middle as an infielder. 

Whatever sport you’re playing, it’s likely to help you succeed in a different sport!