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IN OTHER WORDS: Multiple-sport athletes become more well-rounded

Why is it becoming popular not only nationwide but also in small towns around the state, including Mitchell, to specialize in one particular sport? Where have the days gone of the true athlete?...

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Why is it becoming popular not only nationwide but also in small towns around the state, including Mitchell, to specialize in one particular sport? Where have the days gone of the true athlete?

As my coaching years add up, year after year I continually see more athletes dropping out of sports to become specialized in one area.

I continue to ask myself if these athletes and their parents have an answer for this drastic decision, but yet I still haven't come up with an answer nor had one provided to me.

Since the internet is one click away, I am sure parents and these athletes are reading up on this topic, or maybe not. Doing a little research, the first article I pulled up was titled "The Perils of Single-Sport Participation."

Now some of you reading this are thinking back to me calling this a "drastic decision," but when the title of the article uses the word "perils," that becomes concerning to me. In fact, I had a very difficult time finding any evidence showing that one-sport specialization at a young age turns out to be beneficial.

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As a coach of high school baseball for 13 years I can remember numerous players hanging it up early, and by early I mean in middle school. This isn't the alarming thing. I have never been a coach who bugs kids to come out and participate, and I never will.

The stats show, however, these kids who are hanging it up early to specialize in a particular sport are the same kids who end up quitting everything in the long run. These players succumb to specific sport injuries, lack of a competitive edge, and most importantly getting burned out of their specialized sport.

I can hear some parents now, "That won't happen to my kid."

Once again, I still haven't been provided with the reasoning for these decisions being made in the first place.

I did find it interesting however to read that Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer diligently recruits multi-sport athletes. A couple years ago, 42 of Meyer's 47 recruits were multi-sport players. I also found it interesting that a very successful football coach in Dakota Wesleyan University's Ross Cimpl labeled many of his incoming freshmen recruits this year by their position of "athlete." Not running back, safety, or linebacker, but just an athlete. College quarterbacks don't have to be decided on in the seventh grade.

You don't have to go very far down the hall to find another DWU coach who believes in participating in multiple sports at a young age. Basketball coach Matt Wilber played both baseball and basketball all the way through college at Augustana. I'm sure he probably would have participated in one more sport in college, too, if he had had the time. I know everyone has their favorite sport, but make competing in multiple things your favorite. Research also shows that athletes who specialize at a young age tend to lose interest in activities when they get older as well. Being a three-sport athlete in high school myself is probably why I still like to attend many sporting events and help out when possible. I don't claim to be an expert on this subject and I don't intend to write a book about it in the near future, but I am a coach and citizen of Mitchell who wants to see all athletic programs compete to their full potential. Full potential means all hands on deck.

Please don't hang up your cleats too early.

Give yourself the opportunity to grow into a well-rounded athlete. And don't be surprised when Urban Meyer approaches you after your baseball game, basketball game, or tennis match. Remember, he's looking for athletes.

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- Luke Norden is a fifth-grade teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary and coaches Legion and high school club baseball and middle school football in Mitchell.

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