Building Athletic Capital

B. Jackson
Bo Jackson in his Auburn days

I recently finished reading “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport.  I heard Eric Cressey recommend it on a podcast and thought I’d check it out.  The main premise is that skills trump passion when it comes to building a career that you love.  Newport’s first rule is that simply following your passion is bad advice.  There is a lot more to having a career that you love than simply being excited about it.  Rule two explains the concept of career capital in which gaining rare and valuable skills leads toward work that you love. There’s a hell of a lot more to it but just these rules got me thinking.  What does all of this have to do with training?  I’m thinking Athletic Capital.

When kids are young they can be extremely passionate about sports.  In some cases they may only play one sport.  Or, especially these days, even if they play more than one sport, certainly the one they are most passionate about dominates the year. Now more than ever across the country kids can play a single sport throughout the year on high school, club, various travel, select and alleged All-Star team.  In theory this sounds great as kids can continue to practice, get noticed by “important” people and receive the almighty scholarship.  In many situations I think it starts with the coaches/organizations, then down to the parents and finally the kids are being told what they need to do.  Excuses for such behavior range from letting teammates down, having the chance to play in front of scouts or colleges and getting left behind skill-wise from not practicing enough.  Recently various professionals, experts and coaches, etc have seen the problem with this situation both from a physical and mental perspective and tried to make people more aware of the truth.  I too believe that specializing in one sport throughout the majority of the year or young athletic career is a problem and that even through high school kids should focus on building athletic capital.  

What is athletic capital?  Well, I see it as developing many athletic qualities at any age, but especially young, in an effort to be a better overall athlete regardless of whether or not you choose to later narrow your focus. I believe amateur athletes should be playing multiple sports to build a large athletic skill set that will have carryover to other sports and ultimately help them gain unique and valuable skills.  Sure everyone knows the kid who was a standout at a young age but that skill typically becomes less unique and valuable as the talent pool widens.  The wider range of athletic skill or the more capital that’s been previously built may ultimately lead to something else as Newport demonstrates in his book.  Choosing the perfect sport or career for you may be a daunting and impossible task for a young person but allowing that sport or career to find you based on the athletic capital (or career capital if you are Newport) you have built may just put you in the best situation.

Tom Glavine
Tom Glavine in ’91 w/ Sea Bass (aka Cam Neely)

I realize that this may be a mentality shift for many but I believe that with little critical thinking we can make better decisions and help to develop more complete, durable, and successful athletes that are so good, they can’t be ignored (even if they don’t play year round).  Plus, this may even expose more people to less popular sports.  I think it’s a win for everyone. It is in no way important that an athlete excel in multiple sports, only participate in an effort to become both a better athlete and person. Consider this brief list of well known athletes that excelled in more than one sport through high school.

Mark Herzlich: NFL Linebacker – lacrosse scholarship offers

Joe Mauer:  – Catcher/1B – Gatorade HS Football player of the year

Jeff Samardzija: MLB Pitcher – Notre Dame football

Charlie Ward: NBA Guard – College football Heisman Trophy winner

Troy Aikman: NFL Quarterback – drafted by NY Yankees

Tom Glavine: MLB Pitcher – drafted in NHL

Bo Jackson: MLB Outfielder – NFL Running Back

Kenny Florian: UFC Fighter – Boston College soccer