(Note: Parts of this response are excerpts from an article written by Joe Santa, CAA, Warsaw HS in Indiana).
School-based coaches understand that talented athletes bring to the table fantastic skills, a competitive spirit and a drive to succeed. When a sport program loses an athlete, the potential success for a team takes a hit. Unfortunately, many athletes today are making the decision to specialize at younger ages. Often, these decisions are not being made based upon the wants and needs of the athlete, but are upon pressure from outside influences including non-school (AAU, club, Junior-Olympics) team coaches, parents and unfortunately, other high school coaches who push the athletes into making this tough decision.
Many times when the decision is made to specialize, it has a negative effect on a multitude of people including the program(s), teammates, and coaches who have to make up for the loss of a key teammate. Higher skilled athletes, in many cases, have been told by numerous people—most of whom don’t have the overall well-being of the student at heart—that they need to “concentrate on one sport so they can secure scholarship money they will need to attend college” and that college coaches are not going to notice them in high school competition.
Driven by this skewed belief, parents will often invest in private lessons, emphasize playing more games in one sport and spending thousands of dollars for camps and schools for the purpose of achieving a college athletic scholarship. Sound research over many years shows that there is a low probability of attaining a full athletic scholarship or athletic monies of any amount. Less than one-percent (1%) of high school students will receive an athletic scholarship; there is much greater likelihood of a student receiving financial aid or scholarships based upon academic prowess or financial need than for skills from a particular sport.
Adding to the “reality of recruiting”, more and more college coaches are looking for young people that stayed involved in more than one high school sport. Research also indicates that high school students who specialize are more likely to be those that burn out in college or simply lose the competitive edge needed at a higher level. College coaches are now indicating that they like to see competitiveness that comes from being a multiple-sport athlete. Multiple sport students find themselves in more pressure situations during varied sport competitions and learn to successfully handle these situations.
- Other advantages that research has identified as benefits of multi-sport participation:
- Less likelihood of “overuse” injuries due to sport specialization (e.g., stress fractures, compartment syndromes, and joint injuries).
- Less mental stress from becoming tired of doing something over and over again (i.e., sport fatigue).
- Multi-sport participation tends to lead to better conditioning, better balance and coordination (due to use of variety of muscle groups vs. same-sport muscle groups).
- Skill development as student ages (MS through HS) tends to improve at a faster rate due to transferable motor skills.
- Provides broad scope of life lessons through multi-sport opportunities (Microsoft executive, Lisa Brummel: “If you only do what you are best at all of the time, you won’t learn how to deal with situations and skills that are real challenges. You could become isolated and focused upon only one thing which will not benefit you later in life”).
There is no question that the decision to participate in multiple sports takes incredible commitment and collaboration on the part of many (the student, the parents and the coaches). The rewards, over time, tend to provide those who choose to engage in multi-sports with a much richer and potentially healthier experience.