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Monday, May 2, 2016

Jones: All for one or sports for all?

Friday, January 8, 2010

There appears to be a growing trend among our young athletes these days. They are concentrating and training in one sport on a year-round basis more frequently than ever before.

For those of you who know me, I readily admit that it is hard to fathom from my current physical state, but there was a time when I was considered to be a pretty fair athlete in three different sports in high school. I cannot imagine that I could have narrowed my preference down to just one sport under any circumstance at that juncture of my life.

In fact, after some serious contemplation on the subject I can't even imagine my teenage years without football, baseball or basketball being a part of it.

With that being said, I realize that we are living in very different times. I graduated from Franklin High in 1972. I did not have video games, 10 sports to choose from, texting, 260 channels to watch, or any of the plethoras of activities that kids have to pique their interest today.

I am a realist and a parent who works two jobs to make ends meet so I am fully cognizant that in today's world it may be simple economics that play a part in the decision making process. Some of us just cannot afford for our children to compete in multiple activities that require a variety of equipment unique to a specific sport, or costs us a small fortune to travel city to city, or fund any of a seemingly endless stream of fees associated with their participation. I can understand that line of reasoning.

It is parents and coaches who force a child to choose for their own selfish reasons that I have a problem with.

Regardless of the reason, there is some concern that specialization in one sport, especially if played with a high level of intensity on a year-round schedule, may lead to physical and mental burnout.

Of course, one could always argue that playing a variety of sports that in essence translate to a year-round season causes the same problems. I reluctantly concede that each argument has its validity.

The question is, will a young athlete learn more about game strategy, positional play or pattern recognition from playing only their chosen sport or is it important to gain the knowledge and insight from playing multiple sports?

It would appear to be an obvious deduction that the time spent perfecting the art of a precisely laid down bunt in baseball, shooting for a high percentage from the 3-point line in basketball, or kicking a gorgeously placed corner kick in front of the net in soccer is not going to make you a better quarterback if football is your chosen sport. Or will it?

In my mind it does. No matter which sport may be your favorite, learning how to garner and maintain a certain level of confidence, to increase mental focus, to fan the flames of competitive fires that burn within, and to develop all motor skills are intangibles that are easily transcended from one sport to another.

I love to win as much as the next guy, but we have placed way too much emphasis on being undefeated as 6-year-olds, or winning a state championship in any one of a dozen tournaments so designated throughout the season for youth sports.

Parents show up to watch just their kid play and raise 10 kinds of heck when little Johnnie doesn't play the anointed position or get the amount of playing time that they feel he deserves.

Conversely, it is usually the same parents who spent exactly zero time with their child honing his skills in the backyard between games that complain the loudest.

In any event, the ultimate point that I have so clumsily tried to convey is that the multi-sport athlete is developing skills and competitive vision that might be more challenging in their totality than the specialized player.

My wife Shawna and my most fervent hopes for our daughters is that they can experience a wide variety of life's offerings. It includes the taste of success, but does not exclude defeat.

Katie, Lillie and Emily are adored and enjoy a huge helping of love every single day in our home, but they have to know that there is hate and deceit all around them in a wide variety of forms. I do not want to deny them the chance to form their own opinions about life and to feel free to express them to us without fear of reprisal because it may not be what we want to hear.

That philosophy does not change when it comes to athletics.

Let them play every sport that is feasibly possible. Trust that they will let us know when it hurts or is no longer fun.

Now, that, I can live with.

-- Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at jjones@t-g.com.

Jimmy Jones
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