by Bidget Hyland
At age six, junior Jordan Sacher participated in gymnastics, soccer, basketball, softball and tennis. By the time she reached high school, she decided to focus only on softball and joined a club team that plays for 10 months out of the year.
In the past, it was normal for high school athletes to play multiple sports, but now it is increasingly difficult to find a student who participates in more than one sport. As the popularity of sports specialization grows, more teens are committing to a year-round, single-sport schedule.
One explanation for this is the pressure put on young athletes to earn scholarships. Junior Julia Kuhn, who plays club soccer for FC Copa in addition to playing for the WHS varsity squad, is undecided about playing in college, but wants to keep her options open. “I think that if you want to go to college for a sport, you definitely need to be playing all year, and practicing constantly,” she said.
Sacher used this reasoning when she decided to focus exclusively on softball. “Since I made the decision to try and get recruited for softball, I felt like I needed to be committed to the sport,” said Sacher. “I realized that if I was going to play on a club team all year-round, I didn’t have time for another sport.”
Kuhn and Sacher aren’t alone. Teens are choosing to specialize in one sport because they feel they must in order to be successful. However, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there is no scientific proof that rigorous training in one sport at a young age is necessary in achieving one’s potential. An athlete who splits their time between multiple sports is just as likely to be successful as one who plays one sport exclusively.
Senior Danielle Rinaldi plays basketball and softball, and believes that playing more than one sport gives her an advantage. “The sports I play are very different from each other, so I learn different lessons from each, which helps me overall as an athlete,” she said. Rinaldi feels that focusing on one sport has some drawbacks.
She said, “If you’re only playing one sport, then you’re only exercising certain muscle groups, which is how you get hurt.”
This is a problem for athletes who play for school and club teams. For example, many members of the WHS swim team also swim for the YMCA team. During the season, they have two-hour high school practices followed by two-hour YMCA practices. Junior Grace Cash said, “Four hours of swim practice every day puts a lot of pressure on my body, and it can become too much.”
With the amount of time teens are spending training their body for a specific sport, the possibility of injury increases. This is because they are using the same body parts consistently, leading to overuse. According to a May 2013 study in Sports Health, there is an elevated risk of injury once teen athletes exceed 16 hours of training per week. Cash is sometimes concerned about her long-term health. “I know a lot of ex-swimmers who have shoulder and arm injuries, and I’m scared that it’s going to happen to me, but I love it too much to quit.”
Teens ultimately commit all of their time to sports because of the passion they have for it. Sacher said, “As much time as softball takes out of my life, I love playing it, and I love that it is non-stop.”