Being a sports editor may seem like a rock-n-roll lifestyle full of envy and admiration from your peers and sports fans the world over but, truth be told … not so much.
I know, shocking, right?
Sports editors and the sports media spend most of their day endlessly criticizing and spouting opinions and shouting “advice” on all topics related to the sports world, but we‘re largely ignored and written off as morons and lunatics. And for good reason. Most of what comes out of the sports media is driven less by good judgment and more by ratings and stirring up controversy.
So when someone asks for an honest opinion, I freeze up like my dad’s old Ford F-150.
The other day a family friend looked at me straight-faced and asked for my advice on an important topic: Sports specialization. Her daughter, a talented young athlete, is at that age when she’s wondering if she should focus on one sport despite the desire to play many.
Seeing as how this wasn’t idle sports-talk chatter, I looked around panicky for someone to swoop in and help. Once I realized I was on my own, I did my best.
The truth is, I told her, it’s a big massive debate.
Some highly respected high school and college coaches will tell you a young athlete should at some point focus on one sport. The athlete can use the offseason to hone their skills, get exposure through camps and summer leagues and different workouts and improve their chances at pulling down a mega college offer.
Plus, they can avoid serious injury in a sport they‘re not so high on.
Of course, she can get hurt mowing the lawn or stumbling out of bed.
And while exposure at camps and other leagues is great, the truth is college coaches and scouts will find talent wherever it tries to hide. If she’s got Ohio State or Michigan or USC pounding down the door and telling her to forsake all other sports, that’s understandable. Barring that, playing multiple sports is a fantastic thing.
There are many reasons why and you can pick your favorite.
Here’s two of mine:
First, serious competition in and of itself is vastly underestimated. Sure, a kid can learn to compete in AAU camps but it’s not the same.
Competing alongside teammates on the football field and basketball courts and baseball diamonds teaches some valuable life and athletic lessons. Athletes learn to fight, to battle, to deal with pressure. They learn teamwork. They learn how to win.
A Newark Catholic coach once pointed this out to me, how many of the top athletes in their school played three sports, and they tended to thrive in the clutch. That’s certainly an ability scouts won’t ignore.
One example he gave was his star baseball pitcher. His senior year, instead of limiting himself, he played football another season and picked up basketball because he wanted to continue to compete alongside his best friends. He knew time was running out on these opportunities.
He went on to have a great college baseball career. But before that, he helped his baseball team win a state title, his football team reach the state semifinals and his basketball team win a district title.
Reason two, for me at least, is kids should never be limited at this time in their lives. If they’re going to get burn out, they can get burn out on one sport as easily as two, or three or four.
Let them have fun. They’ve got the rest of their lives to focus on one sport, one job, one boss, one craft. Let them enjoy themselves and have fun while they can.
That is, afterall, the point of sports: Fun.
When I see my son step on the wrestling mat I’m not thinking: boy, if he really focuses he could one day pick up a wrestling scholarship. No, I’m thinking about how much fun I always had out there working for takedowns and pins.
When my daughter is on the soccer field, I’m not thinking we need more college scouts out here. I’m thinking about how for those four quarters she doesn’t have to worry about homework or the daily grind or cliques at school. She can just play the game.
The scouts and scholarships will come one way or another, but those moments of careless joy are what they‘ll always remember.
Hopefully, I helped this family friend. Afterall, it wasn’t just idle chatter.