As a college coach I was often asked if we prefer players to play multiple sports in high school, or to specialize in baseball. Personally, I feel there are many benefits in playing multiple sports. Here are 5 of those benefits
- Competition – Competition is priceless experience for all young athletes that will have a lasting impact on their lives. Learning how to compete will benefit them as students, as athletes, and eventually as professionals. Competition will teach them value of hard work, it will teach them how to lose, and it will teach them how to win. In its simplest form competition prepares young athletes for life. Learning how to compete, how to earn what you get, has become even more important in today’s “participation trophy” culture in youth sports. There is a difference between winning and losing and the only way to distinguish between the two is true competition. Most college coaches that I know will tell you that you learn more in defeat than you do in victory. Failure provides direction. It exposes your weaknesses so you can make them strengths. This is something that can be learned at a young age and mold a young athlete to be successful in life. Lifting with your trainer or hitting with your hitting coach are great, but it is not competitive. There is nothing to lose. Playing basketball, football, soccer, wrestling or any other number of sports when you are not playing baseball provides a competitive setting that allows an athlete to truly compete, not just participate. There is plenty of time to lift and get some extra swings in during the off-season, but nothing replaces the value of a competitive game where there is a winner and a loser.
- Athleticism – Baseball is a skill-sport that requires athleticism. You don’t have to be a world class athlete to be a great baseball player, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Athletes are still maturing physically in terms of coordination and strength into their early 20s. Continuing to develop athletic skills such as change of direction, explosiveness, flexibility, balance, spatial awareness are key to an athlete’s success regardless of what sport they play. Playing different sports at a young age hones these skills on different playing fields, all of which translate to baseball but may not be specifically trained while playing baseball. Basketball, football, soccer, tennis, among others, trains these skills in ways that are hard to replicate on a baseball field. More importantly they train skills that are directly applicable to a baseball players success. Doing sprints and cone drills with a trainer are great, but they cannot replicate the anticipation, change of direction, balance or explosiveness that is required to defend a quick point guard, evade a linebacker, or return a 120 MPH serve. These are the same skills that can improve an infielder’s range, and outfielder’s angles, or the ability to repeat the mechanics of a swing or pitching delivery. By developing athleticism the athlete is becoming a better baseball player.
- Over Use Injury Prevention – One of the hot topics in baseball has and always will be arm care and arm health. The one constant that everyone in baseball can agree on is rest and recovery are important. If Justin Verlander or the Friday night starter from University of Florida takes several months off from throwing a year, why shouldn’t a 15 year old pitcher? In the meantime, get on another playing field. Compete and develop athletic skills in a different setting. They can still hit and lift, but give them some time off from throwing a baseball. It will pay off in the long run not only in terms of arm health, but in overall athletic development.
- Social Benefits – Being a part of a team is a great way to improve social skills. Being a part of multiple teams that are made up of different teammates and coaches is even better. Learning how to socialize, communicate with, and respect your peers is an important part of personal development. Playing on multiple teams with different teammates forces a young athlete to learn how to communicate and respect different types of people from different backgrounds.
- Team Building – Baseball is the most individual team sport there is. It is easy to separate an individual baseball performance out from the overall team performance. This is magnified in today’s showcase baseball setting, where being recruited has become as, if not more, important than winning, being a part of team and playing the game the right way. Playing other team sports puts an athlete in situations where individual success is much more reliant on their teammates. These sports focus on team building. It teaches the important of roles within a team, the value of small contributions, and that a unified effort can lead to some amazing accomplishments both as a team and as an individual. For aspiring college baseball players, this becomes even more important. At the college level, whether it be Division III or Division I, each team is comprised of players that were the best on their high school team. But, not everyone can hit 3rd and play shortstop. This means that players need to understand their role on a team. At the college level, the only thing that matters is winning. A wise man once told me, “They don’t ask how, they ask how many” and nothing could be closer to the truth. The great programs in college baseball are comprised of talented players who are willing to put the team before the individual, knowing that the individual results will come within the team concept. For all you Patriots fans out there it’s the Bellicheckian “Do your Job” mantra. This valuable mentality can be learned on other playing fields, often more easily than they are on a baseball diamond where everyone gets their turn.
- Added Bonus – Being exposed to different coaches allows you to see various coaching styles, and leadership styles. It is common to see a player stick with the same travel organization, hitting coach, pitching coach, strength coach, etc., for many years as they move up the ranks toward college. Sticking with the same coaches means you like them and their style. Branching out into different sports gives you exposure to different coaches. Some you might like, some you might dislike. The benefit is being exposed to those styles of coaching and leadership before you get to college where you are locked into a coach’s style. If you’ve had exposure to different coaching styles, you can adapt and react to a new coach. Players who have not been exposed to different styles have a hard time adapting, which often impacts performance.