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.
“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.