In pursuit of collegiate scholarships student-athletes are pushing themselves harder than ever, and as a result some high school athletes are turning toward the specialization route in hopes of honing their skills to perfection in a single sport.
Each year, there are roughly 145,000 partial and full scholarships given to student-athletes playing in Division I or Division II sports, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In hopes of receiving one of those coveted scholarships, some high school athletes believe that specialization is the only route.
But CHS athletic trainer Matt Borek is wary of specializing in a sport due to the risk of overuse injuries, the result of repetitive motions in a single sport. Yet Borek also recognizes that there are ways to prevent injuries by having a training schedule that works all muscles instead of one set.
“If a coach uses a variety of training techniques and mixes it up, it would decrease the chance of an overuse injury,” Borek explains. “But if you play a sport like baseball or softball, pitching all year will wear out the arm, and that is something that can stay with you the rest of your life.”
Senior Brittany File, who will be playing softball at EmoryUniversity in the fall, says this risk was one of the reasons she took up tennis.
“I wanted to save my arm for softball,” File says. “Tennis is a good way to keep my arm in shape without wearing it out for softball.”
A study done by the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Florida found that the volume of sports activity is the most consistent predictor of overuse injuries, and that in order to prevent or reduce these types of injuries, efforts should be made to limit the total amount of repetitive sports engaged in by young athletes. Athletes should also be encouraged to participate in multiple sports and recreational activities throughout the year in order to enhance general fitness and aid in motor development.
Fear of injury, however, is not the only reason senior Dom Bifano, heading to the University of Oregon next year, decided to specialize in baseball once he got to high school.
“Playing year-round with the same team creates a true family atmosphere,” Bifano says. “It’s a lot of fun playing for a team that has been together for a long time.”
While a few CHS athletes have decided to specialize in a single sport, the vast majority of them have continued to pursue multi-sport athletic careers and many have managed to go on to play college sports.
“The best athletes that we’ve had come through here have played multiple sports,” athletic director Golden Anderson notes.
Senior Mason Braun, who is going to play basketball at Santa BarbaraCityCollege in the fall, considered specializing in a sport in high school, but simply couldn’t decide which of his three sports he liked the best.
“Before high school I thought I would mainly play baseball,” Braun says, “but I fell in love with football and basketball, and there was no way I could give those up.”
Noted 2012 CHS graduate Devin Pearson, now the starting centerfielder for the U.C. Berkeley baseball team, had the same reason for playing three sports during his high school career.
“I originally wanted to cut down to two sports after my sophomore year,” Pearson says. “But I couldn’t think of what sport I didn’t love or didn’t want to play, so I kept with three.”
In addition to reducing the risks of overuse injuries, playing multiple sports may lessen the likelihood of athletes burning out from playing one sport year-round.
“As a coach, I want all my guys to play other sports,” Anderson says. “I’m a believer that if all you do is this, you’re going to get worn out and tired of doing it.”
With three sports, Braun never felt like he was going to burn out. As soon as one sport was over, he had a new one to play.
“Each sport has taught me different things that have shaped the person I am today,” Braun says. “Playing multiple sports teaches you how to lead, deal with adversity, compete in different environments and how to handle yourself as a player and competitor.”
Some athletes argue that specializing is the only way to receive a college scholarship, but it turns out that playing multiple sports as opposed to playing only one sport really doesn’t seem to matter much either way.
“Some coaches were happy to see that I was an athlete and did multiple sports because they felt that by playing other sports I was getting more tools and becoming a better competitor,” Pearson comments. “Other coaches didn’t care that I played other sports and saw it as a way that I was holding myself back by playing other sports.”