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3 ways to be a successful one-sport athlete

one-sport athlete

Being a one-sport athlete has gotten a bad rap lately. But the truth is, more and more athletes are specializing early on. The reasons? A lot of athletes feel pressure from coaches to focus on only their sport. Others see specialization as a way to gain the skills and sport-specific knowledge necessary to take their game to the next level. Another group just really enjoy playing only one sport.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a one-sport athlete, where it gets a little trickier is in the execution.

Young, one-sport athletes tend to have issues with overuse injuries. These occur when a player repeats the same motion over and over again, straining those muscles and joints. Adolescences’ bodies are still developing. The extra pressure from hours of targeted practice and skills development can have a serious impact.

Another problem one-sport athletes tend to face is burnout. Student-athletes face pressure from coaches, parents and teammates to play to the max in one sport throughout the year. The intense, focused practices and games, drills and workouts can drive a player to lose their love of the game and quit before they even reach the college level.

There are plenty of ways to counterbalance some of the negative effects of being a one-sport athlete.

It might all sound like doom and gloom, but being a one-sport athlete can be an advantage. Many professional athletes have reached the level they’re at by specializing early. This is especially true when it comes to sports like swimming tennis, soccer and gymnastics (see this NCAA survey to learn more). Here’s how to be smart about specializing early.

  1. Spend time participating in free, deliberate play. In free play, you get to just enjoy the game, playing any position you want without the pressure of keeping score or winning. You can try new moves you wouldn’t test out in an actual game setting. You can get creative with how you play. Think about it as the opposite of a structured game. Free play has been scientifically proven to increase overall athleticism as well as boost players’ passion for the sport, so it’s a win-win (but we’re not keeping score).
  2. Incorporate cross-training into your workout plan. Sure, you’re playing one sport, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work out in different ways. For one-sport athletes, cross-training includes any kind of exercise outside of the typical movements you do for your sport. An important key to cross-training is striking a balance between exercises that build strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. Many experts recommend yoga, as it ticks off all of those boxes while clearing your mind and increasing focus.
  3. Limit your hours of structured play each week to your age. Experts recommend that young athletes should limit their hours of organized athletic training each week to however many years old they are. For example, a 10-year-old should spend no more than 10 hours each week playing competitive soccer. This is a great rule of thumb to follow, because it builds time into your schedule to explore free, deliberate play, as well as do some cross-training.

When it comes to recruiting, there are plenty of ways to make sport specialization a positive as you reach out to college coaches. Our recruiting experts are here to help. Give us a call at 866-495-5172 or create your free recruiting profile.

About the author
Kelly Mantick

Kelly Mantick is a writer at NCSA Next College Student Athlete.