Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Death of the 3 sport athlete

One of the saddest trends in high school sports these days is the death of the three-sport athlete. This is as true for girls as it is for boys. College athletics have become so intense, so focused on the recruitment of athletes who are ready to contribute from day one, that the era of the all-around jock who plays a different sport every season is just about over. It's a shame.
.... Oh, there are a few athletes who still play three sports in high school, but if they want to play at the next level--college--they're falling behind the specialists who play or train for one sport all year around. My son, Teddy, is a three-sport guy, and as a father, I must say, it's been a lot of fun. He's a fine football player--next year he'll be one of the captains--a solid hockey player, and a good baseball player on those varsities at St. George's School in Rhode Island. But that's probably going to be the end of the road for him as far as competitive school sports goes. In all likelihood, he isn't good enough in any one of them to play a varsity sport in college. I talked to him about it during his freshman year. I said that it was his decision, and that I personally was thrilled that he wanted to play football, baseball and hockey in high school, but if he wanted to play in college he probably should pick one of those three and play it all summer, and weight train for it, too. That by not choosing one he was essentially making a decision not to play in college. He said he was fine with that. He enjoyed the diversity of three sports, and the camaraderie of playing on three teams. And he certainly didn't want to spend his summers just playing hockey, or just playing baseball, or whatever. He had wider interests than that. (Like chasing girls.)
....Okay, that was a cheap shot. The fact is, I was proud of his decision, and of his reasoning. Why colleges have gone down this road of the specialized athlete is beyond me. I played college hockey, and I've followed the sport closely in the 35 years since I graduated, and the level that Division 1, and even Division 3, college hockey players are playing today is amazing. But very few of them are going to make a career at it. And they don't get to play at that level, generally, by being well-rounded. They are hockey players. They live it. They talk it. They think it. They play it all summer. Their friends are hockey players. It's a rough, macho, not particularly intellectual gang. Same with football players, lacrosse players, baseball players, basketball players who are good enough to play Division 1. They're specialists. Why do our colleges want such singularly one-dimensional students roaming their halls? I don't get it, but they do. Certainly the coaches want their players to be as one-dimensional as possible. But then, the coaches have their jobs to think of. I would argue that the interests of the coaches is out of alignment with the general interests of the student body as a whole. But I could be wrong.

....Teddy recently finished his hockey season at St. George's, and I asked him if he was looking forward to baseball. This may have seemed like a dumb question, but it really wasn't: St. George's baseball team is a league doormat, and its hockey team is something of a powerhouse. But Teddy told me he was looking forward to the change baseball would provide, win or lose. He said football
was his favorite sport during the actual games; that hockey was his favorite sport to practice; and that baseball was his favorite sport for general ambiance. It was relaxing--esp. after six months of the violence of football and hockey--calming, and it was played in the fresh air and sunshine of spring in New England. What's not to like? The message he seems to have absorbed is that everything has a time and place, and to be able to appreciate that enhances the quality of one's life. It's not a bad lesson to learn.
....So he'll spend a week this summer at a hockey camp, and a week at football camp, mostly for the fun and camaraderie, since a number of his teammates will be at both camps. And he'll get some sort of job and will spend some time just fooling around, being a 17-year-old. He isn't trying to get spotted by a college coach. To do that he'd have to try out for one of the teams that plays in Hockey Night in Boston, the high-powered summer all-star league that serves as a showcase for the top high school-aged players in the U.S. and Canada. Or a baseball AAU league. Just not interested.
....Saves me a lot of trouble, actually. Getting your kid on a college coach's radar screen is a time-consuming and expensive proposition. There is the coach's camp to attend. You can have a DVD made of your progeny's heroics and then send it around. There are professional videographers who make good livings doing exactly that for high school-aged football, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, and softball players. They spice the DVDs up with music, with sound effects, with voice-overs, with stats, and with packaged highlights, all in one neatly labeled DVD. The challenge is getting the college coach to actually look at it. A friend of mine had a daughter who was a highly recruited volleyball player, and when he visited the offices of various coaches he was blown away by the hundreds and hundreds of DVDs--many unopened--that were stacked on the bookshelves, unwatched and never-to-be watched. Think of the waste of time, money and effort. Who took us down this crazy road?
...Now a new trend has started: the you tube video link that can be emailed to a college coach for his or her viewing pleasure. Quick, cheap, easy, painless, no muss, no clutter. Here's an example, put together by a friend of mine:
Brooke Cragan

.....It's pretty cute, and I hope it works for Brookie, who's a great kid and, like Teddy, is a junior in high school and worrying about where she's going to college. In the video she points out that if the coach wants to see her in person, her AAU season is just beginning. Thus will she be playing basketball in the spring, too. Maybe all summer, I'm not sure. I happen to know that Brooke is a terrific athlete who could also be playing softball or field hockey or lacrosse in the spring, if it weren't for basketball. I know this because I used to coach her in ice hockey, and she was damn good at that sport, too. But she wants to play at the next level. And to do that, she has to specialize.
....It's not her fault. It's the system's. I find that terribly sad.


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