Dear young athlete – Keep on Playing!
Summertime is here, which means the annual debate has already begun: Should young student-athletes play the full allotment of school sports in high school or should they pick one, dedicate all of their time to it and specialize?
It’s a debate as old as the sports themselves.
I’m 31 and I’ve heard parents plot out their child’s futures and give pros and cons for each side of the spectrum for as long as I can remember.
I’ve seen coaches give advice to student-athletes — both for and against specialization.
So this past week, I researched and I sought out a higher authority, asking a few collegiate coaches their opinion on specialization.
Through that, I think I have formed an opinion on this that is worth sharing, so I’ll share it in my column for folks to hopefully read.
To the young student athlete: You’re only young once! Play as many things as you can and enjoy it while it lasts.
The numbers in favor of multi-sport student-athletes are staggering.
According to a study done by USA Today, more than 7 out of 10 college football signees were multi-sport athletes in high school.
The study also says that 9 out of 10 track and field/cross country signees competed in multiple sports, as well.
Baseball and basketball players also were more likely to get signed if they played other sports.
To me, there are many factors in play that support a young athlete participating in multiple sports — some reasons are obvious and some are not.
For one, I think being a year-round athlete makes you … wait for it … a better athlete.
Some sports exercise certain muscles, while some focus on others. While participating in multiple things throughout the year, a young man/woman is staying in shape and getting stronger. Getting stronger leads to a better core and base, which, ultimately, benefits all sports.
I think another reason to play the full allotment of sports is competition.
Young people need to learn to compete if they ever hope to excel. They need to learn to win, learn to lose and learn how to overcome adversity along the way.
The only way to learn how to compete is to be placed in any many competitive situations as possible. Colleges love student-athletes who are battle tested and resilient. Outside of talent and academics, that grittiness is probably the No. 1 thing they look for when selecting people for the next level.
But aside from all of those things, I think the No. 1 argument for playing multiple sports is simply this: most kids are too young to know exactly what their best sport is until they’re out of high school.
The body is constantly developing and changing until we’re 18-19-years old. Why close the door on something when the full picture has not already been painted?
Case and point — Ellender Memorial graduate Davontavean Martin JUST KNEW he was going to be a college basketball player.
He was a three-star recruit and a verbal commitment to the University of New Orleans.
But then, things changed.
In the summer between Martin’s junior and senior year, he grew a little, while adding muscle to his frame. With that added weight, he decided to dedicate a little more time to football.
Martin had a huge senior season and became one of the most sought-after wide receivers in the country. He bypassed his basketball opportunities, signed with Washington State University and is on a fast track that could lead him to the NFL.
What about Elijah McGuire?
At Vandebilt, McGuire was every bit as good at basketball as football — so much so that many thought his future at the next level would be on the hardwood.
He played both through his high school career, then decided to choose football when he signed with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
He’s now in the NFL, playing for the New York Jets.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course. There always are.
In sports like gymnastics or tennis where the peak age is younger than most sports, specialization may be a good thing to maximize the time available for play before the body shuts down.
I get that.
But by and large, those are exceptions and not the rule.
It may seem hard.
It may take a lot of time.
But it’s worth it.
You’re only young once, young student-athlete.
Enjoy it, embrace it, and do as many things for your school as you can.
When you’re old like me, you don’t want to have any regrets about what might have been. •
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