By SOUTHERN BRITT
(Athens, Ga) North Oconee High School (NOHS) star athlete and University of Georgia baseball commit, Bubba Chandler, attributes his skill set to playing multiple sports throughout his career. But not just his skill set on the field.
“Playing multiple sports has really taught me how to lead,” says Chandler. “Especially playing quarterback and being the pitcher… everyone looks to you after every single play.”
Despite playing for one of Georgia’s top travel teams, East Cobb Baseball, Chandler, has continued to play football and baseball through high school. He has seen many teammates focus on baseball, but turn away from the sport.
“They just get burnt out on it,” he says.
Many high school athletes gravitate to a single sport because they or their parents think it’s the route to a college scholarship. But studies and experts suggest that focusing on one sport can lead to burnout and put a player at greater risk of injury.
Though countless evidence disproves specialization, still adults push athletes past limits. In this 2018 research posted by the Athletic Training and Sport Healthcare, a survey on a group of young athletes concludes that sport specialization is most heavily influenced by parents and coaches, leading to sport drop-out. According to a 2016 study by the National Federation of High School Associations, “single sport athletes in high school are 70% more likely to undergo an injury during their playing season than multi-sport athletes.”
Specialized athletes who play or train for their sport year-round put more stress on a concentrated group of muscles, ligaments and bones, whereas playing several sports reduces stress on the body.
In pressuring youth to specialize, the athlete is more vulnerable to overuse injury and burnout. “70% of kids are dropping out of youth sports,” said author and George Washington University sports professor Mark Hyman. “And of the injuries in youth sports, 50% are overuse injury.”
Not to mention, if an adult wanted to produce professional athletes, most ‘athletes’ did not specialize. Tracking Football found that 88% of 2019 NFL picks were multiple sport athletes in high school; of the 2018 NFL first round picks, 91% of the athletes played several sports in high school.
While being broad-based is a good thing for the athlete’s overall health, it is also an attractive element college coaches often look for.
Editorial director for Aspen Institute Sports, Jon Solomon, encourages sport sampling, acknowledging the athlete benefits by learning to “see the field better.”
“Kids just want to have fun, play with their teammates, play the game,” says Solomon.
While playing different games requires training different physical skills, it also grows the athlete’s mental and behavioral prowess. For example, Positive Coach Alliance Founder Jim Thompson’s motto is “Better Athletes. Better People.”
He points out that sports can grow the athlete as a whole, building moral through “competing,” “experiencing diverse people,” and “emotional intelligence.”
Chandler and some of his North Oconee classmates are trying different activities to excel in their primary sport and take the opportunities to experience many sports.
Senior NOHS college football prospectAdam Weynand spends his time in the off-season on the basketball and track teams.
“I think it’s a benefit [to play multiple sports],” said Weynand. “Especially if you’re trying to play one sport in college, I think it really shows college coaches that this kids just athletic and multi tained.. Can do different things, different sports.”
Though football is his passion, Weynand strives to better his overall athleticism by constantly growing his skill set.
“All sports collaborate with each other,” says Weynand. “They all have some way of complimenting each other with the lateral movement and just being more athletic. They all work with each other.”
NOHS senior Jenna Tulenko can attest to becoming tired with tennis after dedicating much of her early childhood to that specific sport.
“I don’t play tennis anymore for club,” said Tulenko, “I literally have grown up playing this sport. I homeschooled for it, moved to South Carolina for it… but then I just got burned out.”
Now, Tulenko plays tennis and basketball and has established a passion for playing both sports. Sport builds character, creates opportunities and oftentimes becomes kids’ playground for dreams. If a kid falls in love with his or her passion, specialization could be beneficial.
“If a kid wants to specialize because of his love for the sport, specialization could be incredible,” says Thompson. “ But more often than not, the idea of specialization is deriving from a coach or parent.”
Reasons to specialize include: a true offseason, better opportunities against higher levels of competition and better mechanics. “Kids are much more fundamentally sound because of the year round and constant training and repetition,” Hyman said.
Chandler prepares to play at the collegiate level by growing his athleticism and body build through playing sports year-round.
Chandler does not regret his decision to play multiple sports. He says it is what molds him into “a better man and a better person… it helps with athletic ability and being a leader in life and sports.”