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How One-Sport Athletes are Changing Youth Sports

Bo JacksonThe best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell wasn’t the first to propose what is generally known as the 10,000-Hour Rule, but his research — particularly his book Outliers: The Story of Success — has done more to advance the theory than perhaps anyone else’s.

The 10,000-Hour Rule states that it takes the aforementioned amount of time practicing a craft in order to achieve mastery of it. This principle, no doubt, is behind the growing movement of young athletes specializing in a single sport.

It may be that parents — who have their eyes set on a college scholarship, the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — are the ones pushing their children to select one sport over another. It may be the kids, whose passion for one sport outweighs the others, making the decision to focus their training in one area.

Regardless of the reason, it’s plain to see that multi-sport athletes, specifically on the high school level, are an endangered species.

Once upon a time, it was as American as apple pie to sample a wide variety of sports. However, more and more athletes are specializing at younger ages in order to keep up with their rapidly-developing, single-sport peers who have individual coaches or personal trainers.

Simply put, it’s hard to argue against the fact that some measure of specialization is required in order to attain elite-level skills.

As it relates to basketball, the year-round competition provided through the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has completely changed the direction of the game. And considering how much of college recruiting is done during the offseason, many high school basketball players have ditched other sports.

Aside from AAU, the proliferation of fall leagues and summer tournaments have given scholastic teams more time for bonding and players even more avenues for improvement. As a result, many coaches secretly prefer their players to avoid other sports and the potential scheduling conflicts that accompany them.

Few varsity basketball coaches will speak on the record about their desire to keep their team as intact as possible throughout the offseason. Workouts during this time are used to cultivate fundamentals — as opposed to in-season practices when game plans are implemented — and create chemistry under less-stressful circumstances.

However, every hoops coach can appreciate how cross-training and participating in multiple sports can diversify a player’s athleticism and thus enhance his or her effectiveness on the hardwood.

After all, choosing one sport over several not only increases the risk of burnout — which is all too common among today’s teenagers, who have more options than any generation in history — but it also intensifies the pressure to succeed. And more pressure equals more training, which leads to more injuries.

The bottom line is that it is one thing to hope for an athletic scholarship, but quite another to expect one. Given the statistics associated with athletic scholarships, depending on one as a means to pay for college seems foolish. Most studies place a high school senior’s chance of earning athletic aid at 2 percent. Therefore, only playing one sport, at the exclusion of others, in the hopes of getting a free education is probably not a good idea.

From GameChanger and Mark Hostutler. Hostutler coached high school basketball on the freshman and junior varsity levels for seven seasons at three different schools in suburban Philadelphia.