College coaches and high school athletic associations are constantly extolling the virtues of the multi-sport athlete. The local AM radio station airs a commercial every time I listen on my morning commute from the Michigan high school athletic association (MHSAA). It goes something like this, “…high school athletes playing multiple sports do better in school, experience less injuries, etc.” and then adds, “…number of high school athletes going pro….not many….” Then it ends with the evils of sports specialization. Add to that the virtuous college coaches claiming their love of the multi-sport athlete.
They have been babied their entire lives by their parent(s), by schools and have been taught how special they are, just perfect the way they are.
I used to quietly shake my head and disregard the nonsense. These days I will call it what it really is: Bull Shit and Propaganda. Why?
First: You would struggle to count on one hand the number of NCAA college coaches who promote this same virtue to their softball players. “Sure Sally, you can also play volleyball, basketball, etc. while you’re playing softball for me in college.” LMAO! Those athletes are more likely to be told, “Uh yea, maybe you’re better suited to play at the community college level.”
Second: Tell me a story about the softball player being recruited by the top D1 colleges who because she only played softball, was less recruited. Crickets! A coach may full well appreciate the fact that a player on her team or one she’s recruiting also plays another sport. But that is only after that coach has already decided to recruit the player. Any coach that tells you otherwise is simply not being honest.
Third: Players playing in Fall-Ball while they are on the varsity volleyball team are far from their best during those games. They are unable to practice softball much, if at all, and cannot even participate in many Saturday games of tourneys because of all-day volleyball tournaments. If they show up for Sunday games, they are exhausted and it shows. The same is true for basketball players during the winter concerning college softball camps as well as the limited number of winter softball workouts they can participate in. So, do you think college coaches actually take this into consideration? LMAO!
Fourth: Reports in the news in recent years talk about the declining participation rates in high school sports. This I’ve seen first-hand in community. They foolishly blame sports specialization and travel sports (year-round sports) for this. The MHSAA advertises this daily as I’ll assume other state associations do. They also broadcast it at games as well. This is extremely misleading and hard to believe it could be done naively.
There are numerous reasons for athletes deciding not to play a sport and or any sports in high school. Terrible coaches are a big reason. The stories I endure each year with my new players has me to the point of actually suggesting, for the first time, that it might be a good idea to not play for their high school softball teams. Yes, it’s that bad. The stories I hear are not so much about a coach who is not knowledgeable or unable to teach the game. It’s often about coaches who think they know the game, particularly concerning teaching skills and fundamentals, where they demand players do something completely incorrectly. Ugh!
Worse, this and other forms of abuse are rampant. “Abuse,” you think? Yes! Punishing players who don’t change how they perform a skill they’ve learned from the best coaches and trainers or see it as disrespectful. Those coaches don’t hesitate to take it out on the player. Whether sitting the bench or constantly verbally jabbing them, this and more happens all the time. Their varsity coach whines after already a player has already pitched the first two games of a 3-game tourney, “What? You can’t pitch the championship game?” And every year, “Coach, I don’t want to play for my school.”
Yet, we tell them that they should suck it up and do so anyways. Why? Because they’ll at least get some reps in and because college coaches would want you to stick with it. Yes, we evil travel coaches actually encourage them to grind it out and make the best of it. Well, I am done doing so. In Michigan recently an option has risen where players play for a spring travel softball team instead of playing school ball. They only play in weekend school tourneys and cannot be part of any conference or the playoffs. I fully support this now.
Those are definite issues. Now I’ll share a theory I have about the current culture and generation of high school students: They have been babied their entire lives by their parent(s), by schools and have been taught how special they are, just perfect the way they are. Snowflakes (period). It’s as if they’ve never been told “No” before. Should anybody challenge or push them, they see it as abuse. And rather than putting their big-girl/boy pants on, they cry to the powers that be that somebody (coach, teacher, etc.) is being abusive or bullying them.
“That coach makes us run too much,” or “That coach yells,” or “That coach has favorites and I’m not one of them.” Good luck coaching such kids, whose parents frequently complain to the athletic directors and or school boards. Many of them simply quietly walk away from sports. Their friends will be like, “Oh she just doesn’t want to practice so much or thinks the coach is mean, etc.”
My daughters played travel soccer and travel softball before high school. But, they are both spring sports in Michigan. And I can tell you with 100% certainty that if they had tried to play both sports in high school, it would not have been very well received by the school coaches nor their teammates and their parents. They had no interest in fall or winter sports, so they would have been wrongly classified as athletes who specialized in a sport. If soccer had been a fall sport, they would have likely played school soccer. Instead they hung up their soccer cleats and gear.
However, if soccer had been a fall sport I can tell you for a fact that my daughter Hayley would have had no problem telling the varsity soccer coach she would be missing games/practices for a travel softball tourney or college camp. How do you think that would have been received by the varsity coach? LMAO! You'd also have other players and their parents all in a tizzy when she would have been allowed to start games again over their daughters "who never miss practice or games."
Do some players get injured from overuse? Yes. Who’s to blame? Often it is their parents for not listening to their daughters or pushing them too hard. For example, I hear from the parents of pitchers coming up from 14u (almost every time), “Oh she’s a bull dog. She can throw every game.” I have to tell them that that may have been the case in 12u or rarely 14u, but it isn’t anymore. Their bodies change and with it, so does their ability to throw so much without injury.
Other times it’s their school coaches for wanting them to pitch every game, because “It’s the only way their team can compete.” The same is also true for catchers concerning their knees and backs. And yes, travel coaches can also share the blame at times. I have to tell the parents of players I coach, “You need to have a meeting with your coach and tell him/her that you do not want your daughter throwing every game or that she needs some games/days off if her arm is hurting.” It’s not only pitchers or catchers, but any player who needs to rest or recover from injury. Yet, many varsity coaches coach with their egos. “I don’t care if she can pitch this summer on her travel team,” I’ve actually heard more than once from varsity coaches.
So I say to the MHSAA and other high school associations who are experiencing declining participation rates: You might want to check your facts. You’ve been believing your own propaganda long enough. And I say to the college coaches: Please knock off the virtue signaling of the multi-sport athletes. Either show us by openly encouraging and allowing your players to also be multi-sport athletes in college or just stop it already.