Multi-Sport Athletes Win!
I recently saw an Internet discussion where a track coach said that if football is an athlete’s primary sport, the best approach to off-season conditioning would be to have him participate in indoor and outdoor track. BFS is a strong proponent of athlete’s participating in multiple sports, but having athletes sign-up for two seasons of track is not the optimal approach to unifying a school’s athletic program. It’s also not in the best interest of a high school athlete who wants to play at the next level.
Before strength coaching became a profession in the 70s, football coaches would often encourage their “skill position” athletes (such as corners and quarterbacks) to play basketball, and their linemen to wrestle. If a third sport is added, they would encourage the skill athletes run sprints in track and have the linemen put the shot or throw the discus. When you take a closer look, such an approach to athletic training for a football player makes more sense than just doing two seasons of track.
From a sports science perspective, training for the sprints in track and field develops cyclic speed, which is being able to move quickly from point A to point B. But cyclic speed is just one speed quality needed for a skill position player in football (and for many athletes in other sports, such as a soccer player). What about the athletic qualities such as fast eccentric strength (i.e., braking strength) needed to produce a sudden change of direction or rapid deceleration? What about the ability to react to the movement of a ball or an opponent? If cyclic speed is so important, how is Tom Brady at age 40 one of the NFL’s most valuable players, since his best official time in the 40-yard dash in 2000 was 5.28? As for a lineman, being able to run a fast 40-yard dash has little to do with blocking or dodging an opponent at close range.
Rather than having coaches argue about which single sport is better than another for improving an athlete’s primary sport, athletes should participate in a variety of sports as each has something to offer. And while it’s great to win a state championship in a single sport, BFS believes that a multi-disciplined approach improves the success of several sports. For example, the quarterback on the football team might be able to make significant contributions to the success of the basketball and baseball teams; and that powerful center might excel in wrestling and the shot put.
A multi-sport approach also gives the lesser talented athletes more opportunities to experience success – maybe that so-so offensive lineman with poor reflexes can be a talented wrestler or shot putter? And maybe that female soccer player with OK short sprint speed looks like the Energizer Bunny in the 800 meters? There are a few athletes who are great at all sports, but everyone is at least pretty good at something.
Sports specialization makes sense at the college level. But at the high school level, multi-sport participation gives our young athletes more opportunities to excel and contributes to the overall success of the athletic program.
Kim Goss, MS
Editor in Chief, BFS magazine