Three-sport athletes are practically a thing of the past, but Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton — an All-California Interscholastic Federation selection in football, basketball and baseball at Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High last decade — would like to see a renaissance among teens.
“I recommend multiple sports for sure,” Stanton told the Los Angeles Times. “The memories I have bouncing around for each sport, having to juggle some in the same day, it’s tough, it’s difficult. You want to stick with one sport and master one thing and be good, yeah, you might be able to go to more combines, but the life experiences and athleticism you get from playing three sports or whatever will stick with you and help you progress.”
Easy for Stanton to say, since he’s blessed with an athletic 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame that — along with plenty of hard work — helped earn him a $325 million contract a week after his 25th birthday.
And there’s the rub. The value of a six-figure athletic scholarship is too enticing to a decent athlete — or the parents of one — who could catch the eye of a college recruiter by concentrating solely on one sport. Likewise, if you’re an exceptional athlete, the dream of playing a sport professionally is more easily attainable — however minuscule those odds may be — by putting all your eggs in one basket.
Stanton is the exception, no longer the rule.
And then there’s the system. The career of a coach, both in school and out, ultimately depends on the success of their program. Whether they admit it or not, a high school football coach, for example, would prefer his players stay in the weight room with their teammates all winter, participate in spring ball and make the combine rounds in the summer, improving individually and as a team to benefit the program. The same could be said about the coach of a traveling basketball team. There have even been instances where coaches require players to commit year-round in order to earn a roster spot.
Heck, if your program rises to the level of a football or basketball factory, athletic apparel companies come calling with sponsorship deals. You travel all over the country, building relationships, recruiting talent, catching the attention of college programs. Scouts and agents might start hanging around. Scholarships are given. Pro contracts are earned. The money is there. Pockets are lined. It’s a cycle.
Meanwhile, some kid who earned all-league honors in three separate sports may not have realized his full potential in any one discipline. Just hope he’s good enough to earn a scholarship in his best sport.
Or hope he’s Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton’s desire for more three-sport athletes is shared by many who’ve seen student athletics become more business than pleasure and would prefer kids enjoy being kids before the pressure mounts.
“High school is what kind of grows you into the person you are. I have great memories, good and bad, some learning experiences and some that I’ll take with me the rest of my life.”
For the 99.9 percent of student-athletes who won’t ever make $325 million playing the sport they love, maybe, just maybe, the lessons they learn from working together with different teammates in different sports under different coaches will ultimately prove more valuable in their professional lives one day.
Both sides have valid arguments, so this discussion could go on in perpetuity. But until the lure of college scholarships and pro contracts — real or perceived — goes away, the single-sport culture isn’t going anywhere. It’s like the philosopher Christopher Wallace once said: “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”