This is a topic I’ve mulled over for some time. As a high school basketball coach, I am constantly having discussions with players and parents about whether or not specialization in a singular sport is going to help or hurt that player’s career. This is what I’ve found.

After some research, I do feel that it’s better to play more than one sport, especially through high school, and here’s why.

What’s the right number? 2 sports? 6? 1 for competition and several for leisure? What about the masses? I’d argue that LeBron James made the right choice NOT to pursue football beyond high school. Still, he WAS a multi-sport athlete in his foundational years. So, timing might matter, too.

It’s not entirely clear if there’s a one-size-fits-all answer here, but let me share some thoughts and research that may help your child (or you, if you’re the player) make the right decision.

Injuries

One thing to think about is risk of injury due to specialization. Is there a greater risk of injury in playing the same sport year round? In some cases, yes. If their only sport is baseball, rifling long-toss and fastballs from the mound every day is going to wreak havoc on their arm/shoulder. Young baseballers are having ‘Tommy John Surgery’ at record rates. One season of baseball might be enough. Unless you’ve got scholarships on the table, maybe it’s time to leave summer baseball out of the equation.

Here are 2 articles on NBA players being multi-sport athletes in high school. There seems to be a correlation to having fewer injuries later in their career.

1 – The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance.

2 – NBA athletes who played in multiple high school sports had fewer injuries, longer careers

Competitive Edge

Things don’t always come easy to us, but finding a way to make it work is a valuable lesson that will help them both in other sports and far beyond.

A dominant tennis player may be far outside of their comfort zone playing basketball, but it’s a universal truth that stepping outside of their comfort zone makes them better in the long run! Maybe the physical skills are different, but the mental edge they gain from tackling the changing landscape is exactly what they needed.

Aaron Judge was a Multi-Sport athlete

Photo by: Brendan Kuty (SJ)

Aaron Judge, NY Yankees superstar, thought he might be better at basketball… then football… but after a few summer camps, BASEBALL wound up being his passion. 

In 2017, 30 of 32 picks in the first round of the NFL draft were multi-sport athletes.

What does that say about being a ‘naturally gifted athlete’? Maybe there’s something to be said about learning to win or succeed or improve in ANY endeavor. Judge sure did.

Burnout

Burnout is a real issue. What’s more exhausting, though? At first thought, we might think, “Playing 3 different sports has got to spread you thin!” But it’s actually quite the opposite. When we’re young, we have an impressionable pallet. If a young player specializes from too early on, the risk of them burning out on that sport and eventually hating it are sky high.

If the only thing they do is golf, and their whole life is built into how great of a golf player they can become, pressure mounts. As they grow, their identity is built on a narrow foundation and the risk of losing the sport with a, very common, adolescent identity crisis is likely as well. They can easily overtrain, lead to burnout, and never find joy in the sport again.

In summary, I believe injuries, burnout, and competitive advantage to be the 3 most discussed topics in reference to young athlete specialization. My findings? It seems like being a multi-sport athlete, at the very least, will not limit your potential for excelling in any singular sport. On the contrary, it may help.

To conclude, take some time to go over some examples of multi-sport athletes that have done well for themselves, obviously disproving any stray theory that eludes to being a multi-sport athlete as a reason you cannot have peak success.

Oklahoma starting QB drafted 9th overall in MLB draft
The last 2 years, the NFL draft has made it painfully obvious that multi-sport athletes can have a great career in football:   2017 2018
LEBRON and others – not sure why this is not talked about more
Another great article worth reading on the topic from NSR

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