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Whatever Happened to the Three Sport Athlete?

Back in the day, everyone played three sports in school. In fact, we all played our sports in a school setting but then continued to play out of season in a variety of other sports. But that has changed over the years and now we are seeing much more specialization at an early age for our kids.

This is a disturbing trend and that is why there is a big push now for LTAD or Long Term Athletic Development. We are trying to get back to developing athletes through smart, incremental progressions suitable for the age of the athlete. Develop the athlete first, then later on specialize.

Oh, yeah, when we talk about kids participating in three sports, we don’t mean Soccer in the Fall, Indoor Soccer in the Winter and Soccer Travel Team in the Spring and Summer! We are talking about three DIFFERENT sports to develop the overall athletic ability required for those sports.

There are so many advantages to playing different sports. Overall athletic development, preventing burnout, preventing overuse injuries and, if nothing else, better sociability by getting to hang out with different groups of friends!

Many parents push their kids to specialize way too early because they have visions of future athletic scholarships in their head. They feel like they have to send their kids to all of the camps offered out there and to be “seen” by potential recruiters. Well, first of all, there just aren’t that many full athletic scholarships out there and they are only reserved for the very elite. (Most parents have blinders on and have no idea that their kid just ain’t that good!). My advice to parents and kids when I was coach/athletic director at my high school - hit the books! If you are a good athlete with good grades, there will be money out there available academically to get you on the playing field.

Plus, recruiters aren’t interested in what your child did to win the 8-10 year old age bracket tournament! They are looking for solid, all around athletes! For example, in a post by Urban Meyer, former Ohio State Football Head Coach, out of the 47 football recruits in one particular year, 42 were multi-sport athletes in high school and only 5 were football in high school only.

Another good example of the advantages of being a three sport athlete in high school and not specializing too early was Jordan Spieth. Those of you who follow professional golf know that name. At the age of 21, he became the sixth golfer in history to win both the Masters and US Open in the same year! Did you know he was a quarterback in football, point guard in basketball and pitcher in baseball during his high school career? Basically, he hung up his golf clubs during the school year and didn’t pick them up until the summer. He started doing extremely well in golf as early as the age of 12 and wanted to be a full time golfer. It would have been very easy to go that route, but his parents insisted he continue his all around athletic development where he could specialize later. They saw the bigger picture.

In 2014, the USOC completed a comprehensive survey of their Olympians to see how many specialized early to get to their elite level. The survey showed that on average, between the ages of 10-14 Olympians played 3 sports and from 15-18 played two sports per year.

Let’s get back to developing athletes first! Specialization can come later and with better results!

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