It isn’t easy doing a lot of things at once. Multi-tasking takes talent and a lot of time-management skills.
Sometimes, just doing three or four things in succession, one at time, can also come at a blinding pace and can make for some intense moments.
Think about a multiple-sport athlete, especially one who is 12, 13, 14, 15 years old. These young boys and girls are still trying to figure life out and are faced with the endless task of playing sport after sport after sport while also trying to balance the life chore of figuring out who they are, how to do well in school and building a social life. Some even have a job.
With the advancement of the need for sports to be an everyday thing, the activities now overlap and kids can be seen going to two or even three different sports practices or camps a day during the summer and even in some cases, during the calendar school year.
Basehor-Linwood football coach Rod Stallbaumer, Lansing High track and cross country coach Brian Malm and Pleasant Ridge football coach Patrick McCollim shared their thoughts on the subject.
1. How is playing multiple sports beneficial? Where can it be a detriment?
Stallbaumer: “I think the benefits of playing multiple sports are many. First you are competing for an entire season instead of just practicing. The more an athlete can put themselves in competitive situations it will not only help them in all sports but also help them in life. Second, playing other sports minimizes the risk for overuse injuries as most sports focus on different movements, therefore different muscles, and it prevents over-training injuries. Third, taking a season to play another sport allows a mental break and prevents burnout from focusing completely on one sport. Fourth, in a small school, playing other sports means you are spending more time with your teammates building chemistry, building a bond. Some kids’ main sport may be baseball but if they go out for basketball they are helping make that team better, then that basketball-first kid turns around and plays baseball and makes that team better. I don't think a small school can field competitive teams if everyone is specializing and when a few athletes start to do that then more do and next thing you know you have a lot of average teams because the talent pool is split too thin. Last, if you play a sport that you may not be great at you’re going to learn how to handle adversity and struggle through something difficult that will likely benefit you along the way in your main sport.
“The detriments can be that it is very time consuming to play multiple sports and takes greater time-management skills to make it work. It makes it more difficult to have a job during the high school year. You may fall slightly behind skill-wise in your primary sport by not focusing on it year-round but very few actually have the discipline to truly work on one sport year round and so all the benefits of playing multiple sports often outweigh any deficit in skill development.”
Malm: “I think multiple sports creates a well-rounded athlete, both physically and mentally. From a physical perspective, you get the standard development of muscle groups that you don’t normally use in that sport, which in turn strengthens the body. However, I feel that the mental component is as beneficial, especially in team dynamics. I think it helps an athlete to face adversity in a variety of settings to help them cope with whatever may come up during their season.
“A detriment I see in many multi-sport athletes is fatigue. I see the multi-sport athlete of today competing not only in multiple sports, but in multiple sports during the same season.”
2. As coaches, what are the challenges in dealing with these athletes?
Stallbaumer: “The biggest challenge is primarily in time management in the summer months. It takes some planning and coordination with the other sports coaches to schedule camps and competitions in the summer to allow for dual-sport athletes to miss as little as possible. Each coach’s sport is the most important to them so you have to work to be flexible and understanding.”
Malm: “Some of the challenges that I have to deal with in multi-sport athletes is sharing them with their club season. It can be difficult to get some rhythm built in a relay team if different legs are gone throughout the season for volleyball and basketball tournaments. The same is the case during cross country where chemistry is so important and members are gone for soccer tournaments. One has to weigh the pros vs. the cons of these type of athletes.”
McCollim: “Most of our kids are multiple-sport athletes and the biggest challenge is dividing up time in the summer. Teams are doing more and more in the summer and I often feel we must attend multiple summer camps if we are going to be ready to take the next step in our program, but at the same time you must respect the basketball coach, baseball coach, etc., because they are all trying to do the same. I am lucky enough to work at a place where the coaching staffs are close with each other and spend time organizing summer activities that allow us all to get our needed work in. We all encourage our athletes to play multiple sports and support each other.”
3. Talk about the sacrifice these kids make and how people may not realize the amount of time management it takes.
Stallbaumer: “These kids are stretched extremely thin in the summer. I know at our school they play 30-plus basketball games in the summer, nine football 7-on-7 and contact camp days, dozens of baseball games in addition to getting into summer weights four days a week, all this in roughly 45 days from June 1 to July 15. It makes for a very busy schedule and forces kids to really focus on getting the proper rest, nutrition and hydration which can be hard when running from event to event. The costs of participating in multiple camps and traveling to baseball and basketball tournaments every weekend can get to be very expensive. During those six weeks, dual-sport athletes rarely have days off which is mentally taxing as well. We have some athletes who chose not to play multiple sports just because they don't want to go through that six-week grind.”
Malm: “Many athletes that play more than one sport in a season have very little down time, they often leave from one practice and go directly to another. Since many of the club practices are in the metro, they have an hour drive from my practice to their club practice. They often eat in the car on the way so that they can practice for three more hours, then an hour car ride home, then their homework, often going to bed at midnight.”
McCollim: “Multiple-sport athletes are often giving up most of their summer break attending multiple camps for each of us coaches. This can get very expensive. If you have two kids playing football, basketball and baseball, you could spend a lot of money meeting these expectations. Not only do they make financial sacrifices, but their time with their families is sacrificed a great deal throughout the summer and school year. I believe our coaching staffs do the best we can in setting high expectations for our kids but also recognizing when they need some time off as well. I also believe that the sacrifices they make as a group builds in the kids a common goal that they are all determined to reach due to the hard work and sacrifices they have made as opposed to something they didn't put much time or effort into. As Teddy Roosevelt said, ‘The best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.’”
4. Do you ever see a kid and say, “If only they played my or one sport?” Do you think many top athletes in one sport could be massively better in a sport if they hadn't been multi-sport athletes?
Stallbaumer: “I grew up in a very small town and I played three sports every year and wouldn't have changed that for the world, so I would never recommend a kid to specialize. In our program, we actually give them points toward lettering if they compete in another sport. I think kids need to be active and doing things year-round to stay healthy. Basketball, track, wrestling all have great benefit to football players, they get them working on hand-eye coordination, lateral quickness, learning about leverage, learning to compete one on one to push themselves and to develop speed. All of these things have a great cross-over effect on football so we encourage participation. Most kids who chose not to play a sport and say they are going to work on their main sport all off-season rarely do so consistently enough to be massively better as a result.”
Malm: “I think many of our better athletes that we have produced have been better because of their competing in multi sports. I think this was a great way to reduce burnout for them and potential overuse. Having said that, many of our best athletes in our building would be good at any sport they do simply because they are such good athletes in general. There are a number of kids that walk our halls that I wish competed in my sports because they are great athletes, but have committed to their sport of choice.”
McCollim: “I don't really think so, at least for football. I guess I can concede that there are some sports that have year-long, highly competitive leagues that could benefit a kid for that sport. But I am a big advocate for multi-sport athletes.”
5. Do you think kids who specialize have the advantage right now in general or are they also lacking in any area?
Stallbaumer: “I firmly believe that kids who specialize have no advantage over dual-sport athletes. The positives just outweigh the negatives. If you look at the athletes who have went on to college from Basehor-Linwood the last decade almost every single one played multiple sports.
Malm: “I think that specialization in a sport is beneficial to some athletes once they reach a certain age. I would like to see an athlete try a sport for at least one, if not two seasons, before they decide to specialize. I have so many kids that specialize in one sport and decide to come out for my sports in their senior year and are really good. They then say that they wish they would have done it sooner.”
6. Complete this thought: “In a perfect world, multi-sport athletes ….”
Stallbaumer: “Would all go out for many sports and help their school and their teams be as competitive as possible, learning the values of teamwork, competition how to handle adversity and how to stay active and fit the rest of their lives.
Malm: “Would be more common in a school. In addition, truly talented multi-sport athletes wouldn't be unicorns.”
McCollim: “Would be encouraged by every coach and parent to continue to play multiple sports.”