Buzby: High school athletes should focus on one sport at a time

Risk of injury increases when young athletes try to do too much

jonbuzby@hotmail.comMarch 23, 2013 

The other night, my son wanted to head to the local rec center to play pick-up basketball. I was thrilled; just three days after the end of a very long high school season, he was ready to start working toward next year.

The only problem was baseball tryouts had just started. I quickly recalled a personal experience from my senior year. Over Christmas break, I was invited to play some pick-up ball at a local church. I figured, why not? About 15 minutes into the game, I suffered a hip pointer. I ended up missing our team's next five games. My varsity coach was less than happy.

I shared this story with my son and he quickly decided that, for a change, his father might be right. So instead of heading to the gym, he went to the garage and took some dry swings. (I would have also been fine if he was outside in the driveway shooting hoops, without being defended).

It's one thing when you are playing youth sports and it's not quite as serious. Most high school coaches would agree it's quite another situation on their team. High school coaches expect players to be devoted to that one sport during that time. I told my son that if he had to report to the third day of tryouts with a limp suffered from playing hoops, he would be an easy cut for the coach.

As a youth sports coach, I never require my players to be solely committed to one sport. I never like when they play on different formal teams because they end up missing practices and sometimes games. It's not fair to either team. But I would never tell a 12-year-old that he can't play pick-up ball in the gym because he's playing Little League baseball for me.

As a high school coach, my philosophy was completely different. Due to the frequency and duration of our practices, I firmly believed that playing additional high-stress sports, formal or not, could lead to overuse injuries. Our team aside, it wouldn't be healthy for the player.

Overzealous high school coaches sometimes even "require" their players to be devoted to that one sport year-round, which, by the way, I think is ridiculous. Why should a high school player give up the joy of playing other sports at that age? I'd hear coaches say, "If you want to play in college or the pros, you better be fully committed." Hogwash. The players good enough to play at those levels are naturals, whether they play four or 12 months a year. Fortunately there aren't many of those coaches around anymore.

The bottom line is this: when a player is on a high school team, for his or her own safety, one team and one sport a season is enough. This includes not playing pick-up ball, no matter how much fun it is.

Contact Jon Buzby at JonBuzby@hotmail.com and follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.

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