As a serious athlete, you probably have visions of winning the big game, seeing your name as a top Google search term and getting that coveted STACK magazine cover shoot. But are you so dedicated to your sport that you’ve given up all others? The number of multi-sport athletes at the high school level is declining rapidly due to increased devotion to sports “specialization” training as opposed to general training.
You’re told that in order to get better, you need to specialize, commit to training year-round and burnish one specific set of skills. However, the uncomfortable truth is that single-sport concentration often leads to increased burnout—and to the kind of injuries that professional athletes typically suffer.
As a high school football and wrestling coach, I see it constantly: a young basketball player who is 6’2″ or 6’3″, a great rebounder, plays AAU ball in the summer and attends every basketball training camp in the area. His parents are convinced that he will earn a full scholarship to play hoops in college. When I approach him about playing football, I entice him with visions of out-leaping every cornerback in the conference and catching double-digit touchdowns. But his response is always the same: “Sorry coach, I don’t want to get hurt.”
This is only one example of the specialized athlete problem. A bigger issue is the overall impact on the entire athletic department. The quarterback for the football team can be the point guard for the basketball team and the starting pitcher for the baseball team. Yes, it is possible for an athlete to excel and lead in all three sports! Playing in three different seasons and three different athletic venues, developing an unbelievable repertoire of sports knowledge and skills, and honing an amazing competitive nature: what could be a greater high school experience?
A popular question recruiters ask is, “Does [he or she] play any other sports?” If the answer is “Yes,” they ask about statistics and success. A football recruiter knows that if he is recruiting a kid who is also a good wrestler, he will be getting a good, tough athlete.
One of my goals is to make sure that all of my football players and wrestlers train and participate in multiple sports. Why? Because an athlete who is putting in early morning workouts and sacrificing his body in a sport as tough as wrestling can also be counted on in pressure situations in football games. In our football program, we don’t want just “football players.” We want athletes. And vice-versa: when we want to fill our upper weights on the wrestling team, where do we turn? The football team. That’s what amateur sport are all about: the ability to develop multiple skills and abilities and use them to give yourself and your team the best opportunity to reach success. Not only do the individual athletes better themselves, but the entire athletic department and the surrounding community benefit as well.