By Stephanie Hauser
In our high school last year, only six percent of our athlete population participated in three sports – a number that has been consistent for the past five years. Across the state and nation, the number of three-sport athletes is likely in the single digits or on the decline.
There are many studies that discuss the benefits of being a multi-sport athlete, so why does it appear that the three-sport athlete is a dying breed? Many reasons come to mind – year-round club sports, extended high school seasons, additional summer contact, parents who believe their son or daughter is a scholarship athlete, the costs of recruiting services, the costs of one-on-one training…the list could go on and on.
Is this a trend that is going to take us to the eventual elimination of high school athletics as we know it? In times of financial duress for school districts, will this type of decreased participation and engagement lead to the conversion whereby outside entities are “in control” of our high school student-athletes?
Certainly, athletic directors place a strong value in high school coaches/educators and feel that they are some of the most influential people in the lives of young athletes. We need to do everything that we can to keep these positive influences in our schools and with our school coaches. We also need to continue to strive to help people understand why interscholastic athletics is not an extra-curricular in our schools but an essential piece of the curriculum that promotes healthy and productive schools and healthy and productive young adults who will become the leaders in our communities.
Our daughter is one of a rare breed called “tri-sport athlete,” playing volleyball, basketball and softball at one of the largest high schools in the state. On the first day of summer she said, “Mom, I wish things were the same as when you were in high school playing sports. Things were so much simpler then.”
In response to my question, she simply summarized her first day of summer for me…
7:00-10:15 a.m. – Summer school speech class, a requirement for graduation that she must take in the summer because she can’t fit it in among her advanced classes during the school year.
10:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – Panther Fitness, an amazing class that has attracted more than 350 of our student-athletes. Coaching and physical education staffs offer core training, weight training and agility training to appeal to all athletes.
1 p.m.-3 p.m. – Softball practice for her summer “All-Star” team. The temperature was in the 90s today with high humidity. Additionally, her high school softball team just finished its season five days ago.
3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. – Volleyball contact day. One of the five contact days that our state association allows coaches to have full contact with their players during the summer.
5 p.m. – 8 p.m. (Note the overlap in time) – Two basketball league games at a school 40 minutes from our hometown. She chose to miss the first game, and she explained to her basketball coach that she had a volleyball contact day that she needed to attend, so she drove to the second game by herself. The rest of the team members carpooled and traveled together.
8 p.m.-9 p.m. – Preparation for delivery of her introductory speech in class tomorrow.
9 p.m.-10 p.m. – Time to relax, play a little piano and watch a little TV.
10 p.m. – Bedtime – she is completely exhausted.
My husband and I have done our best to help her achieve “balance” in her life. We certainly have learned through her as she is our oldest child, and we hope that we will do an even better job with her two younger brothers who, at this time, are also three-sport athletes.
As a mother and as an athletic director, here are some suggestions for dealing with these situations:
- Be the final decision-makers on behalf of your kids’ well-being. This means having to put your foot down and be willing to make the difficult decision to say “no” on behalf of your multi-sport athletic child. Injury, fatigue and burnout WILL happen if you are not willing to say “no” to some things. Know when it is the right time to make the decision for your child – don’t automatically give the kids the choice; most will opt to attend everything, not wanting to let any of their coaches down.
- Be willing to “shut them down” for a time period when you see fatigue or burnout happening. Last summer, we were seeing the signs of some nagging fatigue injuries with our daughter, and we were struggling as parents with how to best handle the situation. Then, the best thing for all of us happened – she twisted her ankle at Panther Fitness. This was the excuse that we needed to shut down for the remaining three weeks of the summer…what a blessing in disguise!! The results were amazing. Her shin splints went away, her knee and hip pain went away, she had time to hang out with friends, clean her room, read a book; and when volleyball season began three weeks later, she proceeded to have an all-conference season. The tradeoff was a refreshed body and mind, rather than a few more weeks of training, and she came back stronger than where she left off.
- Let your actions speak louder than your words. Many coaches say that they support the multi-sport athlete, but it is evident that this is “lip service” because they are actually putting undue pressure on these multi-sport athletes to attend everything. Have regular conversations with these kids, so you will be able to sense when it is time to give them a little more breathing room. In reality, many of these multi-sport athletes are the most reliable, competitive and naturally athletic kids on your team. They are the “studs” – let them thrive in their other sports, and then come to your sport refreshed and ready to thrive there. There is no doubt that our daughter begins each season looking a bit rusty. My husband calls that the “three-sport athlete look.” Yet, within the first few weeks of the season, she not only meets, but exceeds the performance of others who have spent countless hours in the off-season in the gym refining their one-sport skills. Coaches should spend the off-season time with the athletes who need them the most – those single-sport athletes who may have average athletic ability. They really need a coach’s guidance and undivided attention to help them fine-tune their skills. This is the opportunity for coaches to help them be the best that they can be.
- Work with other head coaches to coordinate off-season schedules and regularly talk with them about shared athletes. NEVER make an athlete feel like they have to choose between one coach or the other, and NEVER discuss or put down that athlete’s other coaches.
For Athletic Directors:
- Schedule time for head coaches to sit down together to coordinate the summer calendars, open gyms, contact days and camps in a sincere effort to minimize the number of conflicts and difficult choices that the multi-sport athlete is forced to make. This will open the communication lines and minimize the frustration between coaches who feel that they are competing for the multi-sport athlete’s time.
- Communicate the multi-sport athlete philosophy of the athletic department with parents and share with them the things that the athletic department and coaches are doing to support multi-sport athletes. Provide multi-sport athlete research, education and data for parents.
- Manage the outside entities, such as legion baseball, AAU basketball and select soccer. Work with your coaches to find ways to get these outside entities to work with the school to help them maintain three-sport athletes. To do this, you need buy-in from the coaches and the willingness to commit to this effort and be the liaison between school and outside entity.
- Applaud and honor the multi-sport athlete. Build recognition opportunities into your athletic award system. Many of these kids are truly masters of time management, selflessness and self-discipline; and they have a passion for competition. Additionally, there are those multi-sport athletes with marginal athletic ability who truly just want to participate so that they can be a part of something good. Reward these kids for their dedication and contribution to your school.
Athletic directors should gather and monitor multi-sport athlete data for their schools and seek ways to encourage and promote students to be active in more than one sport. This should be a priority in a school’s athletic program in an effort to keep athletics at the heart of where coaches can have the most significant impact on kids – in our schools.
About the Author: Stephanie Hauser, CAA, is the athletic director at Stevens Point (Wisconsin) Area High School.