OPINION: The Benefits of Being a Multi-Sport Athlete
A question often asked in the athletics community is whether athletes at a young age should specialize or remain a multi-sport athlete. Many young athletes will choose to drop a sport upon entering high school. This is so they will have more time to focus on their “main” sport. While I agree with the importance of offseason practice, I do not think that this specialization is necessary or beneficial.
When playing more than one sport you are exposed to more variety — variety of people, skills, roles, and exercise. This variety is important in many ways, especially at young ages. The muscles required in football are very different from the ones you might need for baseball, and having strength in both these areas will have two main benefits. One, it reduces injury. This variety saves muscles from overuse and strain and allows all the muscles to be strengthened to reduce tears. Two, using different muscles will give you different types of motor skills in different parts of your body and this increased coordination will improve your skill in any sport.
Very few athletes are the best player on every team; by playing many different sports players are exposed to different roles on a team. An athlete who may be the lead scorer on the basketball team might be a backup on the football team, and this is a good thing. This difference in roles allows the athlete to learn both how to lead and how to follow. While backing up on the football field, he may learn something about leading that the athlete can then translate to the basketball court. On a similar note playing many sports exposes you to a broader group of people. Letting you play with and learn from more people than just those that also specialize in your sport.
Even outside of athletics I have personally felt the benefits of non-specialization. With myself, as it is with many high school students, lots of unscheduled time may sound like I would get more work done, in reality, the opposite is true. For me the rigid time constraints of having practice almost every day make me far more productive. On most days I only have an hour or two to complete my homework. This forces me to sit down and do my work without procrastinating. I have found that this work ethic and habit has become so ingrained in me that now even on days when I do not have a practice I come home right after school and do all my work in an hour after school.
While the practice is important in any sport, it is also important to diversify and have a large array of skills and interests. It is clear to me that the benefits of being a multi-sport athlete far out way those of being a specialized athlete.