Multi-Sport vs Specialty Athletes in High School

I have played sports for the majority of my life, and once I got to middle school, I began to hear about the debate of whether or not high school student athletes should specialize in one sport, especially if they would like to compete at the collegiate level.

  One reason this debate occurs is because of club sports. For most sports that someone can play in high school, there is also the option for those students to continue playing those sports outside of its regular season. It costs more than the normal high school pay to play, and usually involves some travelling, but it can be a great way for student athletes to continue to improve their skills and even have the potential of being seen by college recruiters. However, playing a club sport typically entails a big time and financial investment, as well as the possibility of not being able to play other sports.

  There are pros and cons to both options, and some students are faced with a real dilemma in making the decision to specialize or to play multiple sports during high school.

  Hilliard Darby’s head football coach, John Santagata believes that students should be involved in more than one sport.

  “Multi-sport athletes are injured less because they avoid repetitive use injury. Multi-sport athletes seem to get better grades. Multi-sport athletes bring a different perspective because they are receiving a variety of coaching instruction,” Santagata shared. Another reason he mentioned was that if a student is involved in multiple sports, they will experience more competition, which is beneficial.

  Russ Rose, the Penn State Women’s Volleyball coach, concurred, stating “[Multi-sport athletes] have had more competitive experiences and not just volleyball specific ones and I think it helps develop their competitive and team personality.”

  Joe Ross, a current coach in the Darby Boys Volleyball Program and a formerly a part of the Wittenberg University Women’s Volleyball coaching staff, also agreed with Santagata’s sentiments about how it is physically better for young athletes to compete in multiple sports, expressing that it could allow them to workout their whole body, and not just the specific areas that they might use in a single sport.

  Despite all of the reasons kids should play multiple sports, there are also some pros to specializing in a sport during high school. It can give students the chance to really work on their skill and prioritize that so they can compete at a high level. Also, it can give people more of an opportunity to be recruited. Whether it be for film or the chance of a college coach seeing you play, if someone is playing a sport for both their school and a club, that could mean more potential for those types of opportunities.

  Ross also believes that there are some benefits to specialization; the main reason being that the sport could become easier the more time they spend playing it.

  “People that specialize have more time to develop a deeper understanding of the activity where they are investing their time,” Ross explained.

  Although making the decisions to put all of their time and effort into one sport versus continuing to play multiple sports can be a tough decision, the biggest takeaway is that students in this position should not feel obligated to specialize.

  Russ Rose talked about how he has seen that for women’s volleyball the typical path is to play school ball in the fall and then continue into club during the winter and spring. However, he thinks that the ability for a player to do this is all dependent on where they live, what they want, and the opportunities they have available.

  “Most important to me is that young players play because they want to compete and understand the opportunity to continue in college may come with some decisions where they have to demonstrate that there is a commitment to improve and the team,” said Rose.

  Ross agrees that not every high school athlete has to follow the same path. He explains that if the student has the talent and makes the necessary steps in order to be recruited by schools, they could be able to play more than one sport during their high school years. Nonetheless, specializing is still a viable option.

  In his experience coaching football, Santagata has noticed that most college coaches put some worth on multi-sport athletes, sharing that a lot of coaches like to see them compete in multiple sports.

  “They are very concerned with character, competitiveness (regardless of the sport), commitment, discipline, etc. This can be gained in almost any sport so long as the coach running the sport creates that focus,” Santagata described, mentioning that coaches look at the big picture of the athletes.

  All in all, student athletes should not feel any pressure to choose one sport to play in high school, just so they can continue to play it in college. If there is a sport that they would like to pursue, they should try their best to do so in whatever way works best for them and their family. There are many paths that can all lead to the same destination; you just need to find the one that fits your aspirations, and it does not matter what the rest of the world is doing if you are doing everything in your own power to reach your goals.

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