Jim Thorpe won olympic gold medals while playing professional baseball, basketball, and football. Jackie Robinson was the first UCLA student athlete to letter in four sports along with being the first African American to play Major League Baseball. Jim Brown is not only considered one of the best football players to ever play, but was thought of by many to be the greatest lacrosse player ever. Bo Jackson told the press he was going to play in the NFL during his MLB offseason, and called it a hobby. Deion Sanders was running 4×100 relays between double header baseball games at Florida State before he was taking a helicopter from an NFL game to a postseason MLB game.
Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were freak athletes, fierce competitors and they wanted to compete in every sport they could. That is not the case nowadays. Too many young athletes are starting to specialize in one sport early on in their athletic careers. Middle school and high school athletes are focusing on one sport year round to increase chances of being recruited by college coaches or professional scouts. Whether it is the kids choice or the parents, both need to realize that picking one sport might not be the best choice to improve those odds. If you start focusing on one sport there is little doubt you will improve in that sport, but it also increases the chance of burning out and losing interest in that sport.
Chris Bates, head lacrosse coach for Princeton University, thoughts on the difference between multi-sport athletes to single sport athletes is, “These guys have a high level of athleticism but probably haven’t peaked yet as lacrosse players. Once they get to college, they will specialize and will develop and blossom. They usually have a steep growth curve, whereas some of the kids who have been single-sport athletes tend to burn out quicker. Oftentimes, they don’t have as much left in the tank.”
Another myth young athletes tend to believe is specializing in one sport will reduce the risk of injury. This theory couldn’t be farther from the truth. Dr. Chris Liebig with Akron Children’s Hospital stated, “A new study has shown that if they are specializing too soon, they are more likely to have an injury – 36 to 42 percent more likely.” Orthopedic surgeon and injury consultant, Dr. James Andrews, author of Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents and Coaches — Based on My Life in Sports Medicine, notes the dramatic increase in overuse injuries he was seeing in youth sports, due in large part to kids participating in one sport all year with little to no recovery time. Being a multi-sport athlete leads to better overall motor and athletic development and an increased ability to transfer sports skills to other sports. Being able to have better motor control of your body is going to reduce your risk of injury.
There will always be pros and cons of playing multiple sports, but I think it is safe to assume that playing multiple sports is going to produce a better athlete. Of course this won’t be the case for all athletes, but playing different sports is going to help you develop more as an overall athlete and reduce your risk of injury that will eventually help you succeed athletically. Who doesn’t want to be the next Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders?