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Scott Baker’s Walkin the Sidelines: Multi-sport athlete isn’t as common anymore

The high school student-athlete is a 24/7 type of animal. I’ve written about the exceptional qualities of true student-athletes. In this column, I will outline my thoughts on a different aspect of student-athletes.

High school athletes are changing. Years ago, many athletes were three-sport participants. Interestingly, not only did they participate in three sports, often times many of them were standouts in more than one sport. Today, the idea that you can be a successful multi-sport athlete seems to be fading very fast.

Sadly, we are now witnessing kids as early as middle school beginning to focus on one sport. This choice is coming with potentially damaging consequences. Among them are burnout and an increased risk of injury from overuse. What is often forgotten is the impact that sport specialization has upon all of a school’s athletic programs.

Schools have a limited number of athletes. If those athletes are specializing, it’s going to cause some of the school’s teams to struggle due to a lack of athletes.

Athletes win. Make no mistake about that. Teams that possess them have a much better chance of winning.

So, why do athletes become single-sport participants? I believe the reasons are numerous.

First, kids could be getting bad advice from adults who tell them that specializing in a sport will increase their chances of a scholarship. Second, to be good in sports today, you must put in the time.

Success in sports requires much time and effort in skill development, speed, strength and agility training. Almost all teams today are spending many hours in their offseason focusing on team development and play. Coaches today are setting up numerous play opportunities for their teams in the offseason.

The coach’s goal? A better team. Many parents are likewise running their young athletes from event to event. Their goal? Make their kid a better player.

Why are the adults, coaches and parents obsessed with doing this? Everyone else is doing it. It’s sad, but true. If a high school coach today does not work with his or her team in the offseason, their chances of success will be limited.

So what’s the problem? Think about it, a student-athlete that plays three sports is tasked with nearly constant activity. They go from one sport to another. Multi-sport competition today requires athletes to participate in multiple sports on a daily basis. For example, during the winter season, they will attend a basketball practice and when it’s over, attend a workout for baseball or softball. This scenario could be played out in reverse in the spring. All sports are involved in this carousel of activity.

Almost all coaches will claim that they support their athletes playing multiple sports yet their actions often times say differently.

To be very clear, this is a very slippery slope for coaches. Coaches need to address the needs and desires of all athletes. Some will be multi-sport athletes and others single sport participants. When a coach plans an offseason activity designed more for the single sport participants, the multi-sport kids often feel compelled to attend.

In all of the hustle and bustle of attempting to successfully juggle multiple sports, a few questions must be asked such as when does the athlete have time for what should be their higher priority, academics? Oh yeah, let’s also remember that we are talking about kids. Kids in their developmental stages who need time to explore avenues outside of sports.

When do they have time for that?

When do they have time for their families and when do they have time for faith?

Do they have time for their family and faith?

Is a car ride to and from practice good family time?

It could be. Everyone has their own opinion on these questions, but nonetheless the situation is problematic.

An issue that I’ve become completely adamant about over the last few years is that too many of our athletes are not spending enough time developing their athletic abilities. Adults are not helping them with this. As I’ve already said, athletes win. Most coaches would agree with me on that. However what we are allowing through our workout schedules and routines is a neglect of athletic development.

As student-athletes run from one athletic activity to another, they are failing to spend time on developing their overall athletic abilities. Speed, strength and agility are physical attributes that are of utmost importance for athletes. There is not a single sport that an athlete can play that they wouldn’t benefit greatly from development in the areas of speed, strength and agility.

Speed, strength and agility are important ingredients in helping athletes stay healthy and improve their overall performance in the competitive arena. Most would completely agree with what I just said here.

However, despite that agreement, there is a continued emphasis on team development, game play and individual sport skill development at the expense of athlete development.

This attitude and practice will not change until all coaches and parents as well begin to truly support multi-sport participation. The lip service being paid by some adults toward their support of multiple sports must become sincere and genuine. Perhaps working together to create a general health and fitness program for all athletes would be a great start.

Only when everyone is willing to admit that they play a part in hindering our athletes overall development will we truly see improvement in that regard. Only when we all become cognizant of the fact that everything we do has an impact on other programs will we actually be demonstrating support for both our athletes and programs.

I admit there is a slippery slope here and yes, a difficult task overall. I’m not sure that I understand why it is so difficult to work together for the good of all athletes and their development.

Perhaps by working together, what we will actually be doing is developing better athletes that will lead to better teams. In the process, it is perhaps very likely that there will actually be more time as well for athletes to be students, friends, sons and daughters and whatever else positive that they choose to do in their youthful years.

I do trust that in saying all of this that it is not interpreted in any way to imply that student-athletes must not be dedicated and committed as they surely do. They must be willing to sacrifice and to be different than others. I simply believe that as adults we can do a much better job in teaching them how to do those things.

At the same time, we can perhaps provide a more constructive path forward that allows athletes to successfully participate in multiple sports. The question to me is do we desire to see our kids develop as athletes or do we desire to simply see them play games?

By working together to develop athletes, all teams would benefit. By continuing down the current path, what we will continue to see are kids playing sports yet doing so at a level that is much less than what could be their best.

By developing athletes before teams, we would all surely benefit. Now that is a proposition that we should all agree upon.

Surely, it is one we would all benefit from.

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