Archive for Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Fly Route

July 20, 2006

It's a giant and obvious contradiction, and everyone involved seems to know it.

Playing three high school sports is good for just about everyone involved. College coaches even prefer it, a recruiting guru said.

But if an athlete wants to graduate to a collegiate career after high school, specialization is required and playing three sports is basically out the window.

Working on a series of stories in De Soto through the last month, I've more than once wanted to reach out to whomever I was talking to and offer just one piece of advice -- relax.

The pressure for today's athletes to dedicate 12 months to every sport is mounting, and it boggles my mind how these kids deal with it.

I was in high school what seems like yesterday -- OK, it was six years ago -- and I never felt the pressure to quit any sport for the sake of others.

In fact, I'm not sure anyone in my Class 4A small-town high school did. Granted we didn't have a ton of athletes signing major college scholarships, but it was simply expected -- an unspoken expected -- that our best would show up fall, winter and spring.

As sad as it may be, that simply doesn't seem to be the case any longer.

I wrote about one young volleyball player, her dream of playing collegiate ball and what athletes with such dreams often have to do to reach that level.

She's already cut out two activities she once participated in and has drastically scaled back others. It's too bad, but if she really plans to go to college to play volleyball, I'm not sure she has a choice.

Rich Kern, who runs a volleyball recruiting Web site, said colleges love three-sport athletes, but just as quickly points out how important it is for young volleyball players to work with the best spring and summer club teams and attend the biggest camps.

It's a giant contradiction -- not one that anyone touts on purpose, but one everyone touts nevertheless.

They all say everyone should compete in three sports. The problem is if you compete in three sports, it's very hard to be great at any one of them.

It's not just about going to college, either. These days it's about simply being successful. Every coach I talked to said summer competition is important -- heck, critical -- to in-season success.

But if every coach says that, how can a true three-sport athlete satisfy all three? Is it going to be basketball camp or a volleyball tournament? Is it a baseball game, football weightlifting or a wrestling tournament?

There simply isn't enough time for an athlete to log the extra work in everything.

It's a problem I can only see getting worse. Recruiting is becoming a bigger business every year and landing a scholarship is becoming more valuable as tuition rates climb.

I'm not even sure I have a real answer to these problems. I guess I'm just glad I never had to make some of the decisions I see today's high schoolers faced with.

Kids and coaches alike need to realize sports are just sports. College will still be there, and if dumping one activity to focus on another still seems like a good idea after a deep, relaxed breath, it's probably right.

I don't have to like it, but these days, it's probably right.

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