A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Should Athletes Specialize in One Sport?


The big question of a young athlete’s career is whether to pick one sport and stick to it. Many high school coaches support and even recommend players to play multiple sports; the pervasive theory that players should pick one sport and focus all of their time on that particular sport is very nearsighted.

When an athlete picks one sport, the muscles that the specific sport call for develop. Yet, all the other muscles stay under developed. When an athlete plays multiple sports, that lifestyle supports a much more balanced physique: whole body strength, not just a strong arm or a strong lower half. Many physical trainers and sports medicine doctors recommend that athletes find ways to incorporate muscle groups that are not normally used in the sports they play. A trainer might tell a baseball right-handed pitcher to work their legs and their left arm specifically to counter the constant use and strain on that right arm.

The amount of wear and tear that an athlete’s body goes through when a player plays a year round sport is very dangerous. A common injury that baseball players run into has to do with the elbow on their throwing arm. That motion, the constant stress that the joint is experiencing can cause the need for surgeries such as Tommy John. A basketball player that plays year round often comes across an injury to the ankle or foot. The constant sharp change of direction and jumping can lead to sprains and fractures that say a wrestler or a baseball player would not have to deal with. Getting a break from the constant strain of a certain joint can allow that join to heal.

Most every athlete wants to get scholarships and go pro but as it is now, there aren’t many spots. If a player plays multiple sports, that increases the spots they can fill. A NCAA Division I football team has 85 scholarships to offer, whereas a basketball team at the same level can only offer 13. It statistically makes sense for an athlete to play multiple sports to maximize the odds of them making it to the next level. For example, a basketball player, an athlete that can jump and is good on his feet could take his opportunity from 13 to 98 by stepping out at wide receiver on the football field and catching some passes. A track runner could increase from around 13 to 25 for running 90 on the basepath. Or even to 110 for returning kicks. There are many different ways athletes can apply their abilities in other sports that hold higher chances for that player to succeed and move to the next level.

It is fairly clear that multi-sport athletes have higher chances of being successful as well as a greater chance of staying healthy. Playing one sport and being good at it is great and all, but there is no reason to put all your eggs in one basket just for it not to be enough. Sure, if you are already a highly ranked player, it can be warranted, but for the guys and girls competing to stay in the running for scholarships, multiple sports is the route to take.