High school coaches and administrators love to promote the idea of multi-sport athletes. On Friday, we’ll know whether their sentiments are genuine or wrapped in hypocrisy.
The 48 members of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s legislative council will vote on a proposal that would allow coaches to practice any time during the school year. The proposal applies to all sports, although football teams would be prohibited from using helmets and shoulder pads.
Simply put, it’s the antithesis of multi-sport advocacy.
“Personally, I think we’re going down a path we might regret in a few years,” AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer said.
Might regret? There’s no might about it.
So, why is this even under consideration? A couple of reasons. Some coaches believe student-athletes who play club sports outside of the high school sport season would be better served if they practiced with their high school team instead. The idea being that high school coaches have the kids’ best interests at heart as opposed to club coaches.
The problem with that, of course, is club tournaments for sports like softball and soccer are popular with college recruiters, who get to see multiple teams at the same site. Kids will continue to play club sports in order to have a better chance of receiving a college scholarship.
The second reason? School administrators are tired of policing all of the out-of-season camps, weightlifting sessions, etc., to make sure they’re in compliance with AIA bylaws. Their solution, apparently, is to throw their hands up and not have to deal with it anymore.
The impact would be ruinous on two fronts.
Let’s say a football coach decides he wants to practice three days a week during the winter and spring sports seasons. The student-athlete who wants to play multiple sports will feel pressured to give up those other pursuits so he doesn’t fall behind in football.
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“There’s not one coach out there who thinks kids should only focus on one sport because that’s in their best interest,” Phoenix Thunderbird football coach Brent Wittenwyler said. “It’s always been in the (coaches’) best interest. It’s adults putting kids in bad situations.
“What’s ironic is most of the coaches making kids do this had the opportunity when they were younger to play multiple sports. Now, they’re taking that possibility away from kids.”
Even if that football coach encourages a kid to play basketball or run track and promises him it won’t hurt his football development, there’s going to be, as Slemmer so aptly put it, “implied coercion.”
“You’re forcing kids to make decisions at 16 or 17 years old that they shouldn’t have to make,” Slemmer said.
Slemmer hopes coaches – who already put in long hours for low pay – won’t want to work more than they already are. But let’s be honest: There will be one coach who seeks to get an edge by practicing out of season, and as soon as that one coach does it, 10 more will follow out of fear their program will suffer if they don’t.
Consider this, too: Will parents chasing an athletic scholarship for their son or daughter be even less willing to have them play multiple sports than they are now? You can just hear the conversation at home:
Son, I know you want to play basketball, but the football team is going to be practicing, and if you’re not there, you might lose your spot and then college coaches won’t see you.
“We’re doing everything wrong,” Wittenwyler said, “and the kids are paying the price.”
This proposal also puts the health of kids at risk. A recent study, funded by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and conducted by the University of Wisconsin, found that athletes who specialize in one sport are 60 percent more likely to suffer lower-body injuries.
“While we have long believed that sport specialization by high school athletes leads to an increased risk of overuse injury, this study confirms those beliefs about the potential risks of sport specialization,” Bob Gardner, NFHS executive director, said in a statement. “Coaches, parents and student-athletes need to be aware of the injury risks involved with an overemphasis in a single sport.”
That statement alone should be enough to kill the proposal.
Slemmer, however, expects it to pass, although he anticipates a lengthy discussion before the vote. Let’s hope that conversation changes hearts and minds.
Because anything that further encourages athletes to specialize in one sport is a bad idea.