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Focusing entirely on basketball has costs, but is necessary – and the rewards are great

Ryan Sterling wears this uniform to work today because of the lessons he learned while wearing a basketball jersey.

ESPN.com posted an interesting two-part series last week focusing on the harm caused by young athletes focusing entirely on basketball.  It was well-researched, interesting, and probably scared the hell out of a lot of parents whose kids dream of playing college basketball and maybe even the NBA.

One thing it failed to mention is that hyper focus on basketball is the only way to become good enough at the game to succeed against other players who are equally committed.

People argue life would be much better for kids if they played every sport – football, basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer, golf, hockey, and more.  They would grow up learning a variety of lessons available from competing in each game, and their bodies would not be subjected to the kind of overuse that causes injuries described in the ESPN piece.

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But they will also fall far behind those who work relentlessly at basketball as their sole vocation.  There is no replacement for relentless diligence, and unless every basketball player simultaneously agreed to follow a sane protocol of diversity in activities, those who continued to embrace daily drill work would dominate the game.  The athletes who didn’t find their way to the gym as often would wind up on the bench and eventually out of the game entirely.

There is also the little problem of scheduling.  If a young basketball player wants to play a spring sport like baseball, it would be very difficult to compete at basketball on the EYBL or Gauntlet series.  Without playing in those events, being recruited by college programs becomes very challenging.  If a kid plays in the summer, he has a few days between those exhausting events and the first football practice.

A couple of years ago, basketball ended on July 31, and football practice began of August 1.  Kids had roughly 15 hours to rest between sports.

It’s easy to look at youth basketball as a flawed system that wears down bodies and robs kids of an opportunity to enjoy many sports, but excellence has a price.  And it also has rewards.

When my son was trying to work himself toward excellence in basketball, he got to school early to get up some shots, lifted during gym class, competed in daily open gyms, and then went to a basketball trainer at least three times per week.  It never ended, and he loved it – or at least he never complained.

He became a very good player, developed knee tendonitis, suffered from a serious back strain, and still has ankle issues that will have to be surgically repaired at some point down the road.  He never missed a practice, and only missed one game (because of stomach flu) and one tournament (with a severe ankle sprain).

The work ethic he developed because of his devotion to basketball served him well.  He played college basketball at Loyola of Chicago, where he graduated with academic honors, and then succeeded at law school.  He’s an attorney today because of the many lessons he learned striving to become a great basketball player.

In fact, he was recommended for the position he currently holds because of the way he played basketball in a local lawyer league.

This past weekend, Ryan was a groomsman in the wedding of a Loyola teammate, and later this year he will be the best man at the wedding of a friend he made playing basketball.

Yes, there is a cost for working like hell to pursue potential in basketball, but there are numerous counter balances that make focusing on basketball worth every rep, gasser, and shot in an empty and dark gym.

Some – like those who wrote the ESPN piece – will focus on the cost, especially for those who never cashed a check for playing professional basketball, but someone needs to point to the life-changing gains that can come from sacrifice.

Basketball is a great game that engrains innumerable life lessons and provides great benefits, and if the cost of playing are aches, pains, and surgeries, those who dedicate themselves to it still come out way ahead.

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