Pick one and run with it… but when?: Single-vs. multi-sport athletes

Thomas Kaplan ’24 (left) prepares to kick a soccer ball; Silas Graham ’27 shoots a layup – images via Communications, design by Arsh Aggarwal ’24

Times change. The top athletes in the world used to strive to perform at the highest level, and those who played several sports received high praise. Looking at most stories of the “greatest athletes of all time,” athletes like Jim Thorpe played multiple sports in high school, some in college, and some even beyond that.

Eighties icons Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders each played two sports at the professional level. Jackson and Sanders have been asked multiple times recently whether they could do what they did in today’s environment. Jackson feels it cannot be done anymore. The best someone who is talented enough can do is “second string at both sports.” 

A New York Times article mentions Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray’s admiration for Jackson, saying “Murray teased the possibility of playing both sports in a photo he posted to Twitter in November, re-enacting a ubiquitous Bo Jackson photo from the 1980s. ” Even though Murray was the first ever taken in the first round for the MLB and NFL drafts, he still only chose to play one sport professionally. 

Kids should stay active 24/7 because children are building up different parts of their body and skills that will help other sports.

Now, fathers of athletic children mimic LaVar Ball, an infamous father who sent two of his children to the NBA. A Sports illustrated article says, “LaVar Ball has long said his dream is to have all three of his sons on the Lakers.” The Ball family received much attention because of the plan LaVar put together for his boys. Ball planned everything from what time they woke up to which classes they took.

Ball’s blueprint seems to be a ticket to success. In 2017, his oldest son Lonzo was drafted second overall to the Los Angeles Lakers, and at one point in 2022 all three sons played in the NBA. 

It could be worth taking the risk now and hope you hit the jackpot. College coaches, including Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders himself (arguably the most-talked-about college coach in the country right now), say they love multisport athletes because it makes them “complete athletes.” 

But the recruiting process is set up to make it backbreaking to keep up with multiple sports tournaments and camps. 

Kids should stay active 24/7 because children are building up different parts of their body and skills that will help other sports. A lot of times families get caught up in the false illusion that middle school accolades are important. Once a child expresses what they love the most, they need to pick going into high school. This is when accolades start to matter. Only then can you put together a strategic plan to achieve the child’s dream. 

The best roadmap is for young people to play as many sports as possible.