It seems not long ago that high school athletes commonly lettered in two or more sports per year. Is it a bygone era? Or are today’s student-athletes primarily focusing on training for one sport year-round? It’s even rarer for college athletes to play more than one sport per year with demanding academic schedules.
This article provides advantages and disadvantages, helping steer athletes in the right direction with their choices to optimally suit them. And perhaps most important yet often overlooked: Athletes should have fun whether playing one sport or different sports – without being pressured by family, coaches, trainers, or peers.
Two-Sport Athletes May Get More Playing Time In One Sport, And Less Time Participating in Another Sport.
Depending on the team sport and coaching decisions, a player may spend more time on the sidelines or the bench on the football or softball team but be the first stringer in basketball or lacrosse.
Two-Sport Athletes Benefit From Longer Rest and Recovery Between Seasons Compared to Playing Three Sports.
Going from playing soccer in the fall to doing winter track, to participating on the baseball team in the spring with minimal rest and recovery potentially can wear down mind and body. Playing just a fall and spring sport gives the athlete more physical and mental downtime. Downtime helps them concentrate on school work and devote time after school in the weight room during the winter months to re-strengthen the body for their spring sport.
Multi-Sport Athletes Face The Challenge of Juggling Academics, Multiple Practices, and Sports Events.
Homework, studying for exams, writing essays – they’re typical scholastic responsibilities. To meet those academic protocols while playing three sports each school year can test an athlete’s character, one’s time management and staying healthy. Conflicts can arise with the demands of attending each sport’s practices, weight room sessions, team meetings, and games. Kudos to those who can withstand those academic and athletic challenges and genuinely earn their varsity letters!
The Pluses and Drawbacks for Single Sport Athletes
One sport athletes who play one season during the school year are provided with additional time for participating in other school extra-curricular activities (e.g., rehearsing for the school play, or being on the yearbook or student newspaper staff, for example). They may also have more free time to focus on their studies before and after their sport’s season.
Specializing in one sport also enables them to practice more often to improve skills to excel at their position in the months before the season starts, after the season ends, and attend sport-specific clinics and camps.
The single-sport athlete’s possible drawbacks include over-training the same joints and muscles or doing repetitive movements required for their sport or position. Also, spending hours practicing the movements on their own or participating in several clinics and camps throughout the year can subject them to short or long-term joint and muscle soreness.
Gymnasts and swimmers practicing hours daily are similarly prone to muscle and joint overuse injuries. Mark Rerick, Athletic Director for Grand Forks, North Dakota Public Schools, states in an article that appeared on the National Federation of State High Schools Association website: “There are several detriments for kids who specialize. The first is facing a greater risk for burnout. Kids get bored when they have to do the same thing over and over again.
Another problem that we’re starting to see more and more is overuse injuries. Suppose tender. Growing joints are subjected to the same movements and stress without rest and recovery. In that case, those joints are going to get hurt.” Rerick adds: “Pick your favorite sport, and you’ll see that at least one set of joints is more susceptible to injury as a result of those sport-specific movements.”1
Multi-Sport Athletes Use a Variety of Muscles.
While one sport/one position athletes generally utilize repetitive muscles and joints during practices and games (e.g. a baseball or softball pitcher), multiple sport athletes play different positions, acquire varied motor skills including balance and hand/eye coordination, and use a variety of muscles and joints.
A cross-country runner in the fall who transitions to participating on the swimming team in winter uses different movements, joints, and muscles and reduces the likelihood of overusing the same muscle and joints. Another fine example is a wrestler playing a spring sport such as tennis or lacrosse during the winter – developing and employing diverse skills, muscles, and joints for each sport.
One Sport Athletes Can Befriend Peers and Coaches at Year-Round Clinics or Camps.
With the opportunity to attend their sport-specific clinics and camps during other times of the year, specializing in one sport gives athletes a great chance to develop new acquaintances from other schools such as athletes who play the same position as them and also befriend coaches outside their school.
Multi-Sport Athletes Can Continue With Their Peers in Another Sport or Make New Teammates.
After soccer season ends, the multi-sport athlete has the opportunity to follow teammates who are also playing on the basketball team or make new friends in their subsequent sport.
Each Sport Season Provides New Interest and Renewed Energy for the Multi-Sport Athlete.
Playing on a losing team is no fun. After a disappointing season for the ice hockey team, the multi-sport athlete can turn the page and perhaps look forward to playing their next sport. The athlete can do this with renewed energy and high expectations for playing on a winning state playoff or championship team and having a successful individual season.
1 National Federation of High Schools Association Website. “The Importance of Multi-Sport Participation” (by Mark Rerick). June 1, 2016.