What do AL MVP Joe Mauer, ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich, Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine, Chargers star Antonio Gates, UFC fighter Kenny Florian, NBA MVP Allen Iverson, and on a lesser scale, my friend Jennie Bill all have in common? All of these phenomenal athletes excelled in at least one other sport throughout their high school years and in some cases further. Joe Mauer was the Gatorade National Player of the Year in football and was offered a scholarship to play football at Florida State. Mark Herzlich could have chosen to play lacrosse at perennial powerhouse and smart kid school Johns Hopkins *. Tom Glavine was drafted by the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. Most San Diegans and NFL fans know that Antonio Gates never played college football, only basketball at Kent State. UFC veteran Kenny Florian played soccer at Boston College. Allen Iverson was the best high school quarterback in the state of Virginia as a sophomore. Jennie Bill was not only a scholarship hockey and softball player at Providence College but has since earned her doctorate degree in music and is now an amazing performer and teacher. It’s clear that none of these people picked just one activity at a young age to specialize in.
For whatever reason it seems that choosing just one sport to play at an early age, say prior to high school, is becoming more popular. Maybe it’s chasing scholarships or the incorrect belief that the only way to be great at a sport is to play it year round. Years ago when I was in high school if you were an athlete it meant you played multiple sports. That’s not always the case these days with some young kids playing upwards of 162 baseball games in a given year with fall and summer leagues, travel ball, and weekend tournament teams. Enduring this kind of repetition in a given sport can lead to overuse injuries or just plain burnout. Coordination, movement skills, better overall athleticism, as well as leadership skills can be gained by enjoying different activities. We all know recovery is important. Simply by playing another sport kids can let other parts of their bodies heal. Practicing new movement patterns will benefit them. Not only that, but young people may just discover a new sport that they enjoy by simply having the time to do so.
My message to kids and parents out there, have fun, work hard and be competitive. If you are good enough at a given sport someone will take notice and give you a chance to make it at the next level, whatever that may be. You don’t have to pick a sport at age 11 and start training like a pro.
* Personally I think he made a better choice in both academics and football with Boston College, but that’s just me.
– Mike Baltren