Opinion Corner: Multi-sport athletes the way to goIf ever there was an ideal display of anti-specialization in youth sports, it was on stage at the Jamestown Civic Center on Saturday. For years now there has been increased light shed on young athletes picking a sport at a young age and putting all their eggs in that basket — specializing is the term.
By: David Selvig, Sun Sports Editor, The Jamestown Sun
If ever there was an ideal display of anti-specialization in youth sports, it was on stage at the Jamestown Civic Center on Saturday.
For years now there has been increased light shed on young athletes picking a sport at a young age and putting all their eggs in that basket — specializing is the term.
Thankfully, that phenomenon is not as common in this region.
Saturday night Darin Erstad and Rick Helling were inducted into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. Both, of course, were multi-sport athletes: baseball, football, hockey, basketball, track & field — the two combined covered about every high school sport offered. If there had been a lawn dart team, they probably would have dominated in that, too.
Of course, the Erstad/Helling example is an extreme one. Virtually none of us that compete in high school athletics go on to that type of success. But as Helling told me last week, “Every trainer or athletic expert I’ve ever talked to says playing multiple sports is the way to go.”
The science behind playing multiple sports is a slam dunk. With variety comes working different muscle groups and just as importantly, not overusing others.
In my experience, of even greater importance, is the mental part of it.
In North Dakota and rural Minnesota, multi-sport athletes are the norm — which is a good thing. But we’ve all also seen kids that specialize. It can and does work out, but every study I’ve seen shows significantly increased burnout rates. But even more telling in my view is with kids that specialize is what I call the “Game 7 Factor.”
When you play one sport, you got one season to make it happen and that’s it. Often times every game, every practice takes on added significance and pressure. The screws tighten, particularly if things aren’t going well, to where it can take the fun out of it because when everything has been staked on that one sport, it better go well, or else … it’s like a Game 7 every time out.
In writing this, I started going through last year’s Hoopsters and Gridiron because I wanted to point out kids that play three or even four sports. The encouraging thing is that I gave up at about 50 athletes because there are so many — Jamestown, Carrington, Medina, LaMoure, Tappen, Wimbledon, Pingree, Buchanan, Kensal, Edgeley, Kulm, New Rockford and many, many more. There are successful multi-sport athletes all over the region.
Those schools need those kids to be playing sports, especially the Class B teams. They don’t need kids playing one sport and then anchoring in front of a TV and playing XBox — they need to be active and in large measure many are.
Will the next Darin Erstad or Rick Helling emerge someday? Who knows, but there’s only one way to find out and that’s to grab a bat, a glove, a helmet or a ball, or better yet all of them, and give it a shot.
Sun sports editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org