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Might be time to choose one sport

01/20/2018, 6:00am PST
By Tom Mauldin

Many college athletes were multi-sport standouts in high school, especially at smaller high schools. There was volleyball in the fall, swimming in winter and softball in spring softball.

Coaches were used to sharing athletes. But it isn’t always the same in college.
The reality is entering college is likely a good time to pick a sport. The list of college coaches who are going to share you with another coach gets smaller each year. Though each sport has a traditional season, each requires year-round training. The coach -- and your teammates -- want your best efforts year-round.
In high school, the traditional sports season is a single season. In college, regardless of an athletes’ sport, they are likely to have a fall and spring season with winter workouts. Or fall overlapping into winter and winter overlapping into spring.

When student athletes receive athletic scholarship for a particular sport, the coach has a lot of discretion over whether or not that athlete will be allowed to participate on another team. The coach is paying for their best efforts.

Coaches have enough to do with managing the players in their own sport. Share that responsibility with another and that adds to it. Coaches are concerned about:
Injuries. A coach needs athletes in top playing condition when the season starts. An injury in another sport creates many issues for a coach from loss of playing time to a “wasted” scholarship ... a scholarship another person who could be contributing;

Team building. Team chemistry is paramount. If an athlete is playing another sport, they likely will miss out on many team events. Thus, creating a disconnect from a team. Take a softball player who misses fall ball due to doubling as a volleyball player. They have no field time while others are advancing the development of their skills. It can be out of sight, out of mind. Often times, coaches will develop their spring rosters from fall successes;

Team loyalty. Which team do they choose on any given day. How do teammates on one team view it when the two-sport athlete chooses the other team for off-field activities. At first glance, this might not seem all that important, but it is. Players want teammates who buy into their sport. In high school, seasons change so it is not as important as in college when it is a “we’re all in this together” philosophy. It is a “WE” have a goal for a single sport athlete, whereas they may view the two-sport athlete of having “THEIR” goal;

A coach’s livelihood is often based on team success. Nearly all want a team full of players who will give 100 percent to their sport. Coaches want players who share their passion for his or her sport;

Next to injuries, the biggest reason most coaches do not wish to share athletes is loss of time to develop those skills needed for on-field success. A catcher who plays soccer does not get fall to work on blocking, throwing, framing, hitting and learning pitcher strengths and tendencies. Double-play combinations do not get a chance to form.

Another thing that a few coaches mentioned was their concern on how a multi-sport standout athlete in high school transitions to college. What if the athlete spends more time on the bench than on the field? Splitting time between two sports, means splitting development time during offseason from one. In other words, there is no offseason to be coached “UP” and take extra reps to be the best. There is a real chance of not being a starter. And double that for each sport.

There are exceptions, but they are rare. It is not unheard of for coaches of two programs to team up and offer this player a scholarship for both programs. But this is rare, incredibly rare.

Even if you find an opportunity to play two sports in college, most experts strongly encourage athletes to focus on one sport. Here are some reasons to focus on one sport:

Academically it is very challenging, again, no “off season.” Most athletes will often save their more difficult classes for the semester in which they are out of season. How does that impact your grade point average and future opportunities?

The physical wear and tear on the body is far more than on a high school athlete. Many athletes end up playing injured or not fully recovered, ultimately not excelling at either sport the way they could if they were committed to one sport. Thus, the impact hurts two teams, not just one.

There is not enough time to develop skills in one sport, especially over the course of an athlete’s college career. They may be good, but not what they could have been.

Many coaches believe “why gamble” with an athlete who has “split loyalties.” There are plenty of athletes who have passion for one sport. And they excel as they are not splitting time and focus.

Corban head coach Abigail Farler likely summed it best:

“I don’t have any experience working with two sport athletes at the college level. However, I have a ton of respect for those who can do it. I believe it would be tough not just from a physical aspect, but mentally. I run our program focusing so much on chemistry and team bond, that it would be really tough for a kid to be here less than 100 percent of the time and really feel engaged. I think it can be done, but it would take a really special kid who was outgoing and put the effort in to connect even when they aren’t around. I guess that would be the biggest con in my mind- you would lose time with one team while you’re with another team. I think it could be hard for the rest of the team to see someone come back after missing practices/conditioning and beat out someone who was there for every practice.

“On the pro side, I think you get a kid who comes into the sport fresh and excited for a different challenge than what they had just been doing. I know Kelsey Randall does it well down at SOU. From what I hear, she does not miss any practices for either sport…that is incredible. I don’t know how the coaches accommodate and how she has the stamina.”

Farler added, “In general, I think kids who play multiple sports in high school are way more desirable than kids who only play softball. They will, generally speaking, be more athletic, versatile, make physical adjustments quicker and be more competitive. There is just so much carryover from sport to sport in my opinion. Plus, I think you are going to get a healthier kid if they have been playing multiple sports, their body will not be as beat down by doing the exact same thing all year long. Again, I’ve never coached a kid in college who played two sports, but looking at high school kids, no, I have never looked at a kid and thought I wished they only played softball.”

Here are a few other comments from Northwest coaches:

Kellen Tate (Puget Sound University) -- “I have only coached one two-sport athlete. She was an incredible athlete on the basketball court and on the softball diamond. In my opinion, she was built to be a softball athlete, but she always had a love for basketball. It was another reminder of why I enjoy coaching at the D3 level since it seems to be the only level where athletes are able to participate in two different sports equally. My views are if those athletes have an equal passion for both sports they should go for it!”

Al Mendiola (College of Idaho), “The only issue that I would see occurring would be the pulling of this athlete by the coaches. Sharing is athlete is a great situation, but having this athlete commit to both all year could be a detriment to that individual.  At the college of Idaho, we make sure that the athlete understands their responsibilities and commitment toward the sport in season. The other issue that may occur is if the two sports cross-over. The ideal situation is a Fall and Spring sport athlete. If the individual is playing basketball at the college level, that sport crosses both the fall season and the spring.”

Remember that softball coaches prepare for their spring season in the fall. Athletes should make sure coaches know their plans. For some coaches, it might make the difference in their offer.

Now might be a good time choose a single sport for college.

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