One of the most perplexing parts of recruiting for many families has been the shift in recent years for high school athletes to focus on one sport for a variety of reasons, one of them being to help get a college athletics scholarship.Michigan State head basketball coach loves recruiting players who play multiple sports in high school. His favorite player ever, Mateen Cleaves, led MSU to the 2000 National Championship. Besides being a blue chip basketball player, Cleaves was All-state and Dream Team selection in football as a quarterback at Flint (MI) Northern High School.
Jay Bilas, in his book ‘Toughness,’ named Cleaves the toughest college basketball player over the past 20 years. His toughness and remarkable leadership ability came in part from having been a leader and key player in two sports. When he got to Michigan State, he was better equipped to lead and compete fiercely that the player who had focused on basketball all the time.
The Notre Dame women’s basketball team is ranked #2 and undefeated thanks in part to remarkable sophomore Jewel Loyd of the Chicago area. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw says there is no doubt Loyd is the greatest athlete they have ever had player for the Irish. This week in a story in the Toledo Blade, Loyd attributes her foot work in basketball to fast reflexes needed in the doubles game. She also says her hand eye coordination was helped greatly by playing tennis.
In his book Through My Eyes, former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow says when then-Florida coach Urban Meyer came to recruit him, it was spring and Tebow was playing baseball. Meyer later said he had never seen a player impact a game from right field so much, and it was because of Tebow’s leadership from out there.
In my opinion, having covered college sports for 25 years as a sports anchor, I found that the most competitive college athletes were those that had played at least two sports in high school.
Recently, US Lacrosse came out with an article where the vast majority of college coaches said they preferred signing recruits who had played several sports in high school.
Chris Bates, head coach at Princeton, says his own son Nick plays lacrosse, soccer and basketball.
“He plays these sports because he loves to do so,” said Bates. “But even now, some of his coaches want him to play across several seasons. We have to draw some limits, and explain that in the spring, he’ll be playing lacrosse and not soccer, which he plays in the fall. The boundaries have to be clear. I’d frown on having my son play just one sport. There are lots of transitive properties — things like spacing, vision and defensive footwork — that he brings from one sport to the other.”
Bates talked about why he would rather recruit players who have been playing multiple sports growing up: “These guys have a high level of athleticism but probably haven’t peaked yet as lacrosse players. Once they get to college, they will specialize and will develop and blossom. They usually have a steep growth curve, whereas some of the kids who have been single-sport athletes tend to burn out quicker. Oftentimes, they don’t have as much left in the tank.”
Scott Marr, head coach of University of Albany lacrosse, says this:
“Don’t succumb to the pressure that your kid ‘has to do this’ to get to the next level. The myth is that if you miss this tournament or that camp that you won’t make it. That’s not true. I don’t feel like you get the best out of kids when they are playing a sport nine months out of the year. Nothing feels really special anymore, because they are playing all the time and feel like they have to be at every tournament.”
Purdue University basketball hasn’t been the same since Chris Kramer graduated just a few years ago. Known for his fierce competitive fire, Chris was an All Big Ten player and Captain for three straight seasons as the Boilermakers were regulars in the Big Dance. Many families might think, “Well, to get my kid to D1 Basketball in the Big Ten, we have to do basketball year round – nothing else!” Chris Kramer and his family didn’t think that way. When Chris played at Huntington North (IN) High School, he played football, basketball and baseball. He earned eleven varsity letters over four years and set fifteen different school records in three sports.
Indiana University third baseman Dustin DeMuth led the Big Ten in batting average last year with a .377 average. When he was at LaPorte High School he was all conference in football, basketball and baseball in one of the toughest conferences in his state, the Duneland Conference.
LaPorte baseball coach Scott Upp, who leads a baseball program that has been ranked as high as number one in America, had this to say about the growing trend of ‘specialization.’
“If there are coaches out there that are telling kids to play one sport, I think they’re crazy,” Upp said. “Because while you’re working on drills and everything else like that, he’s out competing against Crown Points and Merrillvilles and things like that, running from 6’2”, 280-pound linemen. He’s trying to get away and make plays. So he’s competing, and you can’t really substitute that. And basketball, with time winding down, he’s got the ball in his hands, he’s learning how to compete. And all those things that happen in other sports just make him that much better in baseball.”
DeMuth is destined for the Major Leagues, where his competitive background will help an organization a great deal.
I know parents and recruits face a lot of pressures out there, from that high school coach who has subtly made it clear that to make varsity on their sport they had better commit a lot of the year to it, to the belief that you have to play travel ball non stop for exposure. It is a different time than when I was playing high school sports in the late 70’s. The bottom line is that college coaches win with competitors who make plays and have a burning fire within. More times than not, those are the ones that played multiple sports before college.
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Charlie Adams was a sports anchor for 23 years, where he saw many families struggle with the recruiting process because of a lack of education on the subject. Charlie is a supporter of NCSA’s message of Athleadership and often speaks on the recruiting process. His son was a college athlete, his oldest daughter will be a freshman college swimmer starting this fall, and his youngest daughter plays is very involved in AAU travel team basketball as a 5th grader. Since 2005 he has been a motivational speaker with his keynotes and seminars often being bases on sports-related themes. Corporate leaders that bring him in as a speaker often tell him that they seek to hire former college athletes because those athletes bring the ability to manage time, lead, compete, set and reach goals, and work as team players because of their college athletics background. Charlie has written four books on peak performance and the power of attitude.