Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The end of the multi-sport athlete

It's too bad that fewer college kids today are playing multiple sports. According to this article on ESPN recently:

"The multisport athlete is a dying breed. Throughout much of the 20th century, it was commonplace for major college athletes to participate in at least two sports. Nowadays, however, sports at their highest level have become such big moneymakers that high schoolers blessed with the ability and the desire to play two college sports are usually discouraged from doing so and thus forced to make a choice."

Two of my Dad's favorite players during his career were Tony Dungy (pictured above) and Dave Winfield, both of whom played for him at the University of Minnesota back in the '70s. Both were multi-sport athletes. As you might expect, Tony played football, while Dave was a baseball player.

I really believe that playing two or three sports helps athletes become better at their "primary" sport. With kids of my own, I've seen how soccer can help guys with their footwork and spacing in other sports.

As a coach/GM in the CBA, when drafting, we'd look for guys who'd played football in high school as they typically had some toughness to them. The football guys were also typically disciplined and didn't shy away from the weightroom.

A few years ago, while between jobs with the Warriors and the Grizzlies, an NFL team asked me to do background on college football players who had played basketball in high school. With the success that Antonio Gates has had with the Chargers, it makes sense.

Generally speaking, successful basketball players are athletic. They can run, in good condition,catch, etc. With even only high school experience, concepts like spacing, teamwork, footwork, catching the ball, anticipation, etc., -- all skills that can apply to football -- are already ingrained in the athlete.

I read once where Cal Ripken said his father encouraged him to play various sports. When baseball season ended, his Dad would put away Cal's glove and cap and bring out the football or basketball. As good as Ripken was, he wasn't a single-sport guy. Nor were guys like Danny Ainge, Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, LeBron, Randy Moss, Michael Jordan -- the list goes on.

The ESPN article quotes Danny Farmer, UCLA's all-time leading receiver who also played volleyball for the Bruins:

"If I have a child, I will tell them to play as many sports as possible."