Multi-Sport Athletes vs. Single Sport Athletes – The Pros and Cons

There is no easy answer to the question, “are multi-sport athletes better than single sport athletes?” Since there are many different opinions out there on the issue and every athlete is different; the simple answer is – it depends.

Today, many professional athletes and coaches are speaking out about sports specialization.

Football legends like Dabo Swinney and Urban Meyer have discussed why their recruiting boards include multi-sport athletes. Meyer’s recruiting philosophy is to find naturally talented athletes, and he doesn’t want athletes who specialize in football. Houston Texans defensive end, J.J. Watt, has also addressed the sports specialization debacle. He frequently speaks out explaining kids will be better athletes for playing multiple sports. Swinney believes that the experiences gained from being on various sports teams are essential for quality athletes. JJ Watt on Multi-Sport Athletes

“I just think that the cross-training, the different types of coaching, the different types of locker rooms, the different environments that you practice in, the different challenges — I think it develops a much more competitive, well-rounded type person,” Swinney said.

Every athlete is different, and there are some real risks and rewards for specializing too early. The same goes for playing too many sports. Some athletes benefit from playing multiple sports in a year while other athletes need a break between seasons.

30 of the 32 first round picks in the 2017 NFL draft were multisport athletes.

Playing sports provides kids with a lot of positive benefits: leadership skills, discipline, character, the benefits are endless. However, sometimes if athletes push themselves too hard, sports can become a negative part of their lives.

People think that athletes need to put all of their eggs into one basket to ensure their chances of being good at one particular sport. But that isn’t always the best plan of action.

Look at this statistic: 30 out of the 32 first round picks in the 2017 NFL draft were multi-sport athletes in high school. There are clear benefits of playing multiple sports in high school. Since apparently some of the most talented professional athletes competed in other sports in their off seasons.

Pros and Cons of Multi-Sport Athletes

  • Developing Different Skills – Typically athletes who participate in multiple sports have the ability to develop skills that complement other sports. For example, if a football player runs track or plays basketball, he can further improve his footwork and hand-eye coordination. Although footwork and hand-eye coordination are not the same, understanding how to use those body parts makes it easier for athletes to improve in all sports.
  • Minimal Burnout – It’s no secret that nowadays athletes struggle with burnout. For most athletes being pushed to play year round can cause them to lose the passion they once had. And usually, this means they won’t have the desire to play in college.   
  • Choosing One Sport – A major difficulty for elite athletes is deciding which sport they want to play in college. Unlike the great Bo Jackson, most athletes don’t play multiple sports in college. So, it can be hard for someone who is a standout football and baseball player or softball and soccer stud to choose between sports.
  • The Risk of Injury in Other Sports – Again, injuries are a common part of athletics. It’s not often that a player will play their whole career without some injury. But a problem for multiple sport athletes is getting injured in a sport that they play in their offseason. That injury could cause problems for them in their main sport or worse; they could miss time in their primary sport.

Pros and Cons of Specializing in One Sport

  • Perfecting Skills- Focusing energy on one sport and one set of skills is a great way to master a sport. For example, baseball players don’t need to know how to tackle, and football players don’t need swing a bat.
  • Confidence – If an athlete specializes in one particular sport they have the ability to become confident in their abilities, which is a great thing. Confidence is key to being the best player on the field or court.
  • More Frequent Burnout – Athletes who tend to spend all of their time on one sport frequently experience burnout from doing the same things over and over again. This problem is a major con of being a specialized athlete because they tend to quit or give up due to boredom or tiredness.
  • Overuse Injuries – These types of injuries are prevalent for one sport athletes because of the constant repetitive motions. For a throwing sport like softball or baseball overuse can lead to serious problems like Tommy John’s or shoulder problems.

There’s no right or wrong way of being an athlete, everyone’s situation is different. These are just some things to think about when deciding what athletic path to take. Neither path is better than the other. It all just depends on what an athlete wants to do. Do they want to spend all of their time focusing on one sport or split up their time between multiple sports? However, earlier we stated that college coaches tend to recruit or want multiple sport athletes. So, if you want to be a college athlete or you want your son or daughter to play in college then maybe it’s a good thing to think about, especially before an athlete starts the recruiting process.  

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15 thoughts on “Multi-Sport Athletes vs. Single Sport Athletes – The Pros and Cons

  1. I thought the article was great and I loved the supporting facts you used to support your argument. I thought the fact that 30 out of the 32 first round picks were multi-sport athletes was interesting. I thought it was interesting because a lot of people might think that good football players have been playing only football for a long time. While this may be true for some of these athletes, its not the case for some. For instance, in the 2013 NFL Draft the Detroit Lions selected Ezekiel Ansah with the 5th pick in the 1st round. Ezekiel was a natural athlete who only played three years of football, and those three years were in college. He only had 4.5 career sacks in college, but was drafted early because of his athleticism. Athleticism is something that can not be coached, but technique can always be fixed. I thought you provided great evidence of proof of this. I thought the J.J. Watt tweet was great because this one of the top athletes in America, giving his opinion on the matter. His word can go a long way, because people will value his opinion and listen to his word. When I read the the parts about the head coaches wanted to recruit kids who play multiple sports, I immediately knew this was true. As a college football player I have actually heard my coaches talk about the same things Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney were saying. The other day actually, my coach was sitting down with me and telling me about how he recruits. He said the first thing he looks for his how well can the kid move/ how coordinated they are. How well a kid move is important because these are some things a coach can not coach. I have seen some players with bad technique make plays simply because they are better athletes than the one in front of them. In my opinion, a kid who is athletic, willing to learn, and work hard can be successful at division 1 sports. When I was younger I used to hate football and I always envisioned myself being a NBA player. Years later, I have not played a basketball game in over 5 years and now play collegiate football. I also thought I was going to be an astronaut or firefighter. No one knows what they want to be as a child, and parents forcing their kids to specialize in one sport is really limiting their options. The more options someone has in life, the better off they are. I thought this was something that would have been nice to add in the pros and con section for specializing in one sport. Other than that I thought this was an excellent article.

  2. I’m a multi-sport athlete. I compete in gymnastics and swimming. I’m always worried that I’m not focused enough on one or the other, and then feel bad. Even when I’m designing a backpack, I have to have my swim team, and gymnastics team symbol. I’m afraid to let completly go, and pull back with both sports. But, I need to be passionate about both. Gymnastics has been my lifelong dream, but I can’t quite swimming, because I care for it so much. I can’t find anything about this on the internet. How do I straddle 2 life long dreams?

    • Hey Missy,

      First off, thank you for commenting and reaching out! It’s great that you are passionate about both sports. Something you need to think about, do you want to play both sports at the next level or just one? If you’re going to play both sports, you may have a difficult time finding a school that will allow you to play both. However, it’s not impossible! As for training, both swimming and gymnastics are incredibly challenging sports, but they compliment each other well. If your body is physically not giving you any challenges, then you can continue playing both at a high level. But make sure you are in tune with your aches, pains, and injuries. If you do decide to choose one over the other, that doesn’t mean you have to quit the other entirely. You can still do gymnastics and take swimming classes in college or do swimming workouts on your own. The same goes if you decide to pursue a collegiate swimming career. If you have any other questions, please, let me know!

  3. My son will be going to the 9th grade next year and I was told he should focus on one sport. He starts his school year off playing football. Then he moves right into basketball. And once the basketball season ends he runs Track. Then during the summer he plays AAU basketball. I would love if he dropped Football but he wants to continue to do it all. He hasn’t gotten seriously injured other than a bruised muscle. Is there a time when he should drop maybe one of the three? We are a military family and he is the youngest of five so a college scholarship would be great. But I don’t want to push him to drop anything if he truly loves them all

    • Hey Stacy, thank you for reaching out with your question! Honestly, the best answer depends on how your son is doing at all three sports, if he’s injured or frequently gets injured or if he’s struggling academically because of playing multiple sports. If he isn’t struggling and enjoys playing all three sports, then our best advice is to pay close attention to his body. Is he seems worn down then maybe it’s time to rethink playing three sports? Eventually, he will have to choose between the three if he wants to play in college. Some schools may allow him to be a two-sport athlete, but it’s very rare for an athlete to play three. But it’s not impossible. Typically, we see this at the Division III level. If you have any other questions, please let us know!

  4. Hey I’m a single sport athlete, and right now im doing a persuasive writing essay on “why playing 1 sport is better than playing many” and I’m Ina state of confusion right now whether to keep going with my opinion or to stop where I’m at, and switch, I’m going off things like, playing 1 sport means you can focus on that sport and become more skilled and advance, I also mention that playing 1 sport means a less hectic schedule, more time for fun thing and school studies, just so feed back or help would be cool

  5. In contrast to this article I have told my children to play one sport since that offers them the greatest chances of taking that sport somewhere farther in life

  6. -F- I think the most important thing for many kids these days are to simply play and have fun. Variability in sports/play allows our children/athletes to have the ability to adapt to multiple environments. Having a primary sport is great, but also having other sports or activities that they participate decreases overuse injuries as well as burnout, which is very common in year-around single sports athletes. Remember they are kids.

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