Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
Many coaches, especially college coaches, have commented on the phenomenon of athletes specializing too early in a particular sport. They talk about the value of cross-training, and how softballers who play another sport are more well-rounded and better athletes overall.
All of that is no doubt true. Yet in this day and age, it’s getting tougher to be that multi-sport athlete – or have them on your team.
Like many other sports, fastpitch softball has become a year-round activity. Teams have practices and games in the fall, a few weeks after tryouts. Many continue through the winter months, either outside in warm weather climates or indoors in snow country. Then spring comes along and it’s time to get down to serious business.
That kind of schedule works for the softball specialists. They are there at every game and every practice, working hard to improve their skills. But for those with another sport (or two), it’s a different story.
Here’s why it can be a problem. Say the coach wants to introduce a new technique he/she learned at a coaching clinic. Maybe it’s a new way to drive weight shift while hitting, or a different way to execute a throw. He/she is all excited and anxious to get the whole team on board.
The problem is, Jill has a gymnastics meet and Erin has a basketball game that day. So the others learn the technique, but Jill and Erin don’t. Now the coach has to decide whether to go back over that technique again from scratch in another practice, or just start where the team left off and hope Jill and Erin catch up.
One time, it’s not so bad. But when the conflicts keep occuring it can definitely affect the learning curve. If it’s happening with different players for different reasons, it gets enough tougher to build any continuity.
Coaches get frustrated because the team isn’t progressing as quickly as they’d like. After all, there’s a lot to learn in our sport, and having to constantly go back over things because someone was missing definitely gets in the way. On the other hand, multi-sport athletes do tend to be more well-rounded and often out-perform those who focus only on a single sport. Often the skills from one
sport translate into an advantage in another, such as explosiveness in basketball or agility in soccer.
What’s the answer? There isn’t one – at least not a hard and fast one. Certainly one thing parents can do to help out everyone is to avoid the temptation to have their kids in everything. It’s good to expose them to different things, but the kids also have to learn what it means to be committed.
Another is avoid putting them into too many heavy commitment activities. Perhaps rather than playing AAU basketball, club volleyball and travel softball they might want to go into a rec or lower-level club team in one or two of the sports.
For coaches, you have to make a decision as to whether you’re willing to take the bad with the good. Can you accept players missing weekly practices now and then to get the benefit of their abilities and the benefits the other sport can bring? Or do you feel like your goals require total dedication and placing softball above all else?
There are no easy answers. Perhaps one day sports will again go back to being an activity with a definite season rather than a year-round commitment. That would certainly make it easier to play multiple sports without being torn apart. Until then, though, it’s likely no one is going to be completely happy. Especially the players themselves.
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