Source: Sherman Publications

Multi-sport athletes make the grade on and off the field

by Gabriel L. Ouzounian

August 17, 2011

The world of high school sports can be a confusing for young athletes, especially those who may enjoy playing more than one.

While some coaches think an athlete needs to focus on one sport in high school, Lake Orion’s head football coach, Chris Bell, could not disagree more.

“The dilemma at Lake Orion now is that, because of our size, rosters on our teams tend to fill pretty quickly,” said Bell who’s coached high school sports for more than 20 years. “Because of this, we sometimes have kids try to specialize in one sport, ignoring others they may want to play because they want to be good enough to get that roster spot on maybe their best sport.

“But the simple fact is our multi-sport athletes tend to be the best we have.”

Bell pointed out current examples of Lake Orion athletes who excel at several different sports, including senior Maddie Hutchinson, who plays volleyball, basketball and soccer. He also singled out senior Sean Charette, currently the four-year starting quarterback for the football team who also plays basketball and runs track.

One bonus, Bell said, of playing multiple sports is the player gets used to competition.

“I’ve had 59 players go on to play college football and when the scouts come around they all ask ‘what other sports do they play,’” he said. “They really like this for a couple of reasons. First, the more opportunities they have to face-up against competition, the better they will play and the better off they are as an athlete.

“They also learn to thrive in that competitive environment.”

He re-enforced his point by adding that Nick Saban, head football coach for University of Alabama, wrote a book commending multi-sport athletes. Saban says the extra participation develops multiple muscle groups, which in turn makes the players better athletes.

Lake Orion Athletic Director Bill Reiss agreed with Bell and noted another advantage of playing year-round is the benefit of staying active. Contrary to popular thinking, Reiss thinks that playing multiple sports actually aids an athlete’s chances to secure a spot on a limited roster.

“The kids know they have to stay involved in the limited-roster sports and they’ll do anything to slip ahead on that roster,” he said. “We have kids playing on travel teams during the summer because they don’t want their opportunities to slip away.”

Bell said in addition to maintaining a competitive edge and staying in shape, playing multiple sports is something most people only have one opportunity to do in life.

“If you’re good enough to play a sport, play it,” said Bell. “The scheduling can be a little hectic, but we (coaches) work together to plan our schedules around each other for the benefit of the kids. You have to be able to share your athletes.

While the in-season sport obviously takes priority, Bell and other coaches regularly see kids come in the mornings to shoot basketballs, or baseball players will go up to the indoor batting cage to hit a few, just to stay sharp. As long as it doesn’t interfere with their in-season performance, the coaches encourage it, he said.

More than just practicing, Bell said weight training “should be an addition to every sport we have.” For example, Bell mentioned that the inclusion of weight room time for the girls’ volleyball team should make their level of athleticism “rise dramatically” this fall.

“Those kids that get in the weight room more often will have more opportunities and make good athletes even better,” Bell said. “It really should be an add-on for any player.”

Bell urges parents not to force their kids to chose one sport and said doing so is one of the worst things a parent can do for a young athlete.

“The whole message is, among younger kids, do not commit to one sport, but try everything you want to,” he said. “If you enjoy a few sports, do not give up one if you enjoy another. The benefits far outweigh the detriments. They can do it all, it keeps them engaged, and it makes them better students.”