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ROBERTSON: Making the case for multi-sport participation

• Oct 13, 2017 at 2:00 PM

The research and data concerning the positive benefits of participation in educationally based athletic programs are crystal clear: Young adults who choose to participate in athletic activities graduate at higher rates, have fewer discipline referrals in school, have fewer negative interactions with law enforcement, attend school more frequently, have higher grade point averages, and attend college in higher percentage than their non-participating peers.

The skills and values learned as a member of a school team have lasting effects on many that play and can have lifelong implications for overall physical health.

Likewise, participation in multiple sports offers additional benefits that may not be as obvious. Multi-sport athletes have a much higher likelihood of being active adults. Playing multiple sports gives athletes time to heal and develop different muscle groups, tendons and ligaments while limiting overuse injuries. Multi-sport athletes accumulate cross-sport skills like hand-eye coordination, balance, endurance, explosion and agility. Additionally, they learn to communicate in different situations, how to relate with a wider variety of peers and how to fill a variety of roles within a team.

Overuse injuries resulting from excessive specialization is widely recognized as the No. 1 health and safety issue of youth sports. Moving from one sport to another prevents the damage that can occur from repeating the same physical movement over and over.

Burnout occurs less frequently with young adults who choose multiple sports. An intense emphasis on one sport creates inherent pressure to “put all your eggs in one basket.” Kids are very aware that when their parents spend money on club/travel teams, skill-specific coaching and personal training sessions, there are the implied expectations of outcomes (performance).

Administering school sports with not only a design but also a demand for multi-sport participation must be our No. 1 priority.

One need look no further than Grand Haven High School and University of Michigan alumnus Abby Cole for a prime example of the benefits of multi-sport participation. Abby, a three-sport athlete until her sophomore year of high school (then two-sport star) and a two-sport athlete at Michigan, points out that after she committed to play volleyball at U-M, her soon-to-be college coach strongly encouraged her to continue to play high school basketball. Her college coach saw how playing volleyball helped her to have better body control and finesse on the basketball court and how she became a more physical player on the volleyball court because of basketball.

Abby also shared the observation that some former teammates and others she knows who chose to focus on specializing in one sport suffered burnout and left the only sport they were playing. Further, she cited the increased likelihood of overuse injuries as a major concern and touts the benefits of cross-training (working different muscles in different ways with different movements) that comes as a result of playing multiple sports.

Abby firmly believes that she would not have had the athletic success she did if she would have chosen to play just one sport.

Let’s hold true to the values of educational athletics — developing leadership skills, working in groups to achieve goals, handling success and defeat with dignity, work ethic, positive social interaction, and promoting physical growth. Even more, engaging in a variety of settings deepens and strengthens the experience.

I firmly believe that coaches and adults are misguided when they attempt to influence student-athletes to limit their athletic interests to just one sport. Oftentimes, these decisions are based on the faulty notion that focus on one sport will lead to a college scholarship. The fact is less than 2 percent of all high school athletes ever earn a college scholarship.

Moreover, a large number of college coaches prefer to recruit multi-sport athletes over single-sport players. If you have a difficult time believing this, feel free to Google-search the comments of coaches like Tom Izzo and Urban Meyer on this topic, or consider what Abby Cole experienced.

— By Scott Robertson, athletic director for Grand Haven Area Public Schools

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