Valuing the Education of a Multi-Sport Athlete

In high school sports there is a surging market for travel/club teams and personal instruction for virtually every sport. While it is true that expert instruction and playing a sport at its highest level can help launch athletic careers; it is also true that too many parents have patently unrealistic expectations for their children’s prospects. Coaches from high school to the pros are increasingly concerned about the physical and mental effects on young athletes focusing on a single sport.

In August of 2015 “the “USTA, NFL, MLB, NHL, NCAA, U.S. Olympic Committee and three dozen other leading sports organizations joined forces to speak out against the popular ‘early specialization’ trend in youth sports, where children under 12 focus intensively on one sport, at the exclusion of others, year-round.”

Sue Hunt, chief marketing officer at the USTA (United States Tennis Association), which spearheaded the ad, was quoted by Huffington Post freelance writer Jennifer Breheny Wallace. “Early specialization and winning is really about the parents,” Hunt told Wallace. “The kids just want to have fun.”

You know there is something remarkable shaking the sports world when 42 sports organizations agree on something. Experts are weighing in from myriad spheres of the sports world; but if you want a real gauge on the problem you go to your local coaches. There is a fraternity among coaches, athletic directors, and educators that detect rumblings affecting high school athletics long before players or parents. These are the people with their ears to the ground.

Varsity coaches are the CEOs of a school’s sport, but their lieutenants at the younger levels play critical roles on the front lines of high school athletics. Tom Trayser, is the sophomore baseball coach at Neuqua Valley High School.

“Today we are seeing trends that minimize the number of multi-sport athletes in high school,” says Trayser. “Athletes think that focusing on one sport gives them the best opportunity to play at the next level, but it is the multi-sport athlete that is best equipped often times.  Not only does playing different sports help develop a different skillset, it also maintains a fresh and healthy mindset.  It is our job as coaches to work together to encourage this.”

The great news is that high school athletic directors and coaches do work together to provide multiple-sport opportunities. Summer is a perfect example. Baseball, basketball, and football coaches communicate extensively to coordinate the activities of their players.

After winning a second IHSA 3A state baseball championship in three years this past weekend John Young, athletic director at Lemont, made some poignant comments:

“We’re a medium sized high school so we really count on filling jerseys with kids that have a multi-sport approach,” said Young. “And I think it’s good for kids. It’s good because they get a variety of conditioning. They’re not just inclined to play just one kind of sport. The health benefits are proven as well. We all need to do our part by promoting participation and encouragement of more than one sport for high school athletes.”

This is huge for everyone. The athletes get to participate in multiple sports. Coaches get to implement their systems for the calendar year. And recruiters get chances to see how an athlete’s leadership skills translate across the diamond to the field and into the gym.

It’s a valuable perspective that even professional coaches appreciate. Leave it to none other than Chicago Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon to have the last word:

“I love cross pollination when it comes to athletes,” Maddon says. “You get guys who just did not play baseball, meaning they’ve been around a different set of coaches and styles and ways to get in shape and thoughts. I love that.”

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