Like it or not, specialization for most high school basketball players is a necessity

Joe Burrow is a bad example of the benefits of playing multiple sports for a variety of reasons.

[None of the below applies to freak athletes who can walk onto a almost any field or court and be the best player on it.  They are special and rules most of us need to respect do not apply to them.]

Specialization in youth sports is a topic that crops up now and then on social media, and everyone has an opinion.  Most are wrong.

Many believe specialization is the evil product of selfish parents and coaches who crave wins and scholarships.  In reality, for many in sports like basketball, specialization is the only choice for those who want to succeed – however they define success.

Great athletes are shown as magnificent examples of the benefits of experiencing a wide array of sports.  The latest is LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who led the Tigers to a big win Saturday  afternoon at Alabama.

Damien Woody is a smart guy and an analyst for ESPN.  He tweeted about Burrow and specialization yesterday:

Almost 3,000 likes and 400 retweets for Woody as I write this.  That’s a lot of people judging an important decision a kid and family share.  Comments to the tweet deride parents and coaches as selfish money-grubbers pushing kids toward an individual sport.

Burrow was Mr. Football and a first team all-state basketball player in Ohio during his senior year at Athens High School.  His versatility is seen by Woody and others as proof playing two or three sports can lead to success just as easily as specializing in one.

We hear the same refrain when people discuss Mo-Alie Cox, Antonio Gates, Anthony Gonzalez , Deion Sanders, and others who played multiple sports in college and the pros.

The truth is that Burrow is an incredible athlete, much like Ben Roethlisberger, who could have been a 20-point per game scorer had he played college basketball in addition to football at Miami of Ohio.

Yes, for elite athletes with great speed, strength, length, health and height, there are multiple paths to success in many sports.

For football players, basketball offers an outstanding cross-training program for four months during the offseason. They can also run track during the spring.  Football is a unique sport in that the offseason is mostly a true offseason.

Basketball is a different animal.  The opportunities to play are almost endless, and games run from the beginning of high school practice right through the end of July.  For those who want to play basketball In college, spring sports are out because of the importance of summer basketball.  For basketball players who want to play football, practice begins hours after summer hoops schedule ends.

Not only are there insurmountable logistical problems for basketball players who would love to play a second sport, but the skills required for the next level of basketball require almost constant training.  It may not have been that way 30 years ago, but it is now.

The point is that making a blanket statement about the evils of specialization is ill-informed.

Most parents are not selfish, and neither are coaches.  With few exceptions, they are utterly selfless – only invested in seeing the dreams of children come true.  And many times the best path toward the realization of that dream is 365 days a year of basketball.

Football is different.


One thought on “Like it or not, specialization for most high school basketball players is a necessity

  1. Bryan Nixon

    Excellent article! The vast majority of arguments in favor of playing multiple sports are indeed from FOOTBALL coaches. Reality is, their sport is much more about raw athleticism and strength. At the high school level, you could take a great athlete who has never played football, and they could be completely dominating after just a few practices. No way that could happen in basketball, unless the competition was extremely weak. Now I am not saying kids have to specialize in basketball when they are 9 or 10 years old. But the hard truth is, unless you are just a freak athlete, you will have to choose to primarily focus on basketball by the time you are in your early teens. You may be able to manage a second sport that doesn’t require a huge time investment, such as running sprints in track. But to think you can play football, basketball, and baseball and get a college basketball scholarship, you are kidding yourself!


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