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

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5 Responses to Athletes!

  1. mrsghp says:

    Fantastic post. It is so true. Being a terrific athlete means you excel at more than one activity. Kids these days are getting too grooved into year around club sports with the promise of being a fantastic athlete. Problem is these clubs are money driven and are not looking out for the best interests of these kids. Too much of one sport can cause asymmetries and compensations to arrive even if the child has a good movement foundation. This is one of the reasons so many teenagers and below are suffering injuries and are attending physical therapy.

    A great way to counteract this is to get them into another sport.

    • MikeBaltren says:

      You are right on about the club thing. So much money involved and the promise of all kinds of potential exposure to college coaches makes it impossible to back out and be involved with something else. Kids and parents feel like the big chance will be missed. When you step back and look at the big picture we can see that’s not the case.

      I wish I had numbers on young kids going to PT, baseball players having Tommy John surgery, etc. Generally speaking this wasn’t really thought about years ago and one reason is because sports had seasons.

  2. Playing multiple sports is great for a number of reasons. I think these travel teams for young kids is ridiculous and lessens the experience and leads to a host of challenges.

    When I was in 8th grade I announced that I was giving up all sports to concentrate on basketball. My father, a former professional athlete, strongly advised against it. In other words he wouldn’t let me do it and I continued to play football, basketball and lacrosse. Lacrosse turned out to be my best sport but I will chose to focus on football in college. I ended up a 4 year starter at safety and did play one year of lacrosse as well.

    Best thing I did was play multi sports.

    Sandy Sommer RKC

  3. Eric Moss says:

    How is a kid supposed to know what they are really passionate about if they only play one thing? I hadn’t discovered the things I truly enjoyed till I was already 16.

    Georges St.Pierre (spelling?) was a Kyokushin blackbelt that got into mma. He learned wrestling to improve his mma and took to it like a fish to water and now swims comfortably at the top even though he could probably represent Canada’s wrestling in the Olympics.

  4. Pingback: Training for elite performance vs. longevity, and auto-regulation « Ambition Athletics

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