Stop specializing

As a fellow college athlete, I have seen and met a lot of talented players across all sports during my time in competition. I know there are many young athletes that aspire to be in my shoes, or at least reach an equivalent in their respective sports. There are many ways to reach the collegiate level, but there has certainly been one in recent memory that has taken prominence in the minds of young athletes: specialization.

In the world of sports today, many parents and coaches have told future players that they must devote countless time and effort to make it to the collegiate level in their desired sport. 

While it may make you a better player in your specific sport, I don’t believe it makes you a better athlete. Here are three reasons why being a multi-sport athlete brings more potential for aspiring athletes, rather than specializing in a single sport.

Boosts morale and reduces burnout rate

The first major reason is the reduction of burn out rate. While we often think of sports as physically taxing, there’s a large amount of mental exertion that isn’t considered.

Spending a countless amount of time in preparation and practice, especially for 10-12 months of the year, can be mentally draining. This is what we call “burnout”. 

According to a 2022 study by the Sports Science Institute, 72% of athletes experience a sensation of “staleness” during daily training. 

As a collegiate runner, I personally know many incredible athletes that have experienced the crash and burn from mental and physical fatigue. 

How do you combat this? Break your focus up. Those playing two or three sports a year allow concentration for each sport in increments of three to four months. This allows athletes to achieve mental rejuvenation and boosted morale.

Builds complementary physical skills

Additionally, athletes can fully expand their skillset by playing different sports. 

Each individual sport has its own dominant attributes. Constant time spent working on different skills will help players become good within that respective sport but not great overall. 

For example, if a basketball player devotes time for year-round training towards solely basketball, he or she will likely gain a lot of improvement in shooting skills, lateral quickness and overall explosiveness. While these are great, the player can gain more beneficial basketball skills by also participating in other sports. 

Not only can complimentary skills be earned through different sports, but also through general practice. Lots of common training helps boost one’s strength and movement across all kinds of sports. 

Working out and playing multiple sports also reduces injury by over 60% compared to specialized athletes, according to a 2016 study by the National Federation of State High School Associations. This is likely due to the athlete always being in shape.

Teaches lessons beyond sports

The third benefit is that playing multiple sports gives more opportunities to learn valuable life lessons. 

 People that participate in sports learn things such as time management, discipline and focus to accomplish tasks in both school and sports. For multi-sport competitors, this helps establish a constant and consistent routine that can be applied into life post athletics. 

Along with that, players that compete in different variations of competition learn specific lessons within that sport. Having more chances to diversify your abilities to succeed is vital in order to succeed off the field of play. 

Throughout my time in four different sports throughout high school, I have taken away specific lessons from each sport that I use every day here in college.

While specialization may seem to be a confident way to reach your potential, it is a lot more taxing than people think. 

You can reach your potential while still playing multiple sports. In a study of the 256 players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft, only 12.5% of the athletes played football only. The other 87.5% played at least two or sports during their high school career. This is due to the large amount of different physical and emotional benefits from each game, practice and training session. 

Many of the world’s greatest athletes to ever compete played different sports. Usain Bolt played soccer along with track and field, LeBron James participated in football along with basketball and Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders played baseball and football simultaneously at the professional level for a multitude of seasons. 

Do you know any world-class athletes that focused solely on one sport? Not enough for this movement to hold ground.