BigO Tyres

I love playing a lot of sports and I’m pretty good, I guess. I would like to try to play three varsity sports in high...

I love playing a lot of sports and I’m pretty good, I guess. I would like to try to play three varsity sports in high school, but my dad says I’m crazy. He says I’ll be trying to do way too much and I won’t get that good at any of them. My granddad says it’s great, and he misses the days of three-sport athletes. I’m not sure what to do – I’m in eighth grade right now.

J.D., Pittsburg 

   First, let’s harken back to those halcyon days of three-sport athletes that your granddad – and a bunch of other folks – seem to think were so wonderful.

   Let’s assume that there’s value in playing sports. Let’s assume that it’s a benefit to learn the lessons from long days of practice and the immediate heat of competition. If that’s true, then all that three-sport athlete does is deny opportunities to others to get those benefits.

   And what is the advantage? I confess I’ve never been sure. Maybe it’s because your granddad really liked going to high school back in the day, and that’s how things were. Maybe it’s because your granddad was a three-sport athlete. Regardless of the reason, I’ve never thought the days of three-sport athletes were anything special, and that, in a way, those all-around stars were more than a little selfish. They hogged the experience and the glory — that hardly seemed fair.

   Now let’s turn to your dad’s point of view. The sad truth of modern youth sports is that specialization becomes necessary way too soon, and that acquiring skills and experience is a zero-sum game. By that I mean you only have so much time. The time you spend getting better at baseball, is time you can’t spend getting better at basketball.

   That said, I do think playing two sports in high school makes some sense, especially in the first couple years. There are proven benefits to cross-training, and playing more than one sport helps prevent burnout and repetitive-stress injuries. But three? That’s a killer.

   First, that means you start practice in mid-August and you basically never have a day off until the middle of May. You’ll be practicing or playing over every vacation break, and you’ll be expected to be 100 percent committed to each sport – and you’ll get pressure from each coach to work on their sport as much as you can.

   That pressure intensifies in the summer, because what you do in the summer is where you’ll see the most improvement, and you can’t play three sports in the summer — there are only so many hours in the day.

   So my advice would be to split the middle: Pick two sports as a freshman and see how it goes. It might turn out you like one more than the other, it’s pretty easy to choose one to focus on. Maybe you play both sports all four years, and maybe you don’t. But after your freshman year, you’ll most likely need to make a decision as to which one you’ll spend your summer working on. You can still play the other, but even two is too many for all but the most exceptional athletes.

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