By Michael Watt
So much has changed since I was a lad playing Little League ball in the early 1970s, dreaming of doing great things in Yankee Stadium while secretly hoping the ball would be hit to someone else. Perhaps the most distressing development, however, is the recent trend of young boys and girls playing two and three sports simultaneously during the course of what used to be considered one sports season.
Back in the day you played football or soccer in the fall, basketball or wrestling during the winter and baseball or lacrosse in the spring. Maybe you ran track or joined the swim team instead of the big six mentioned above, but regardless of what you played that was the sport for that season.
Now you have kids playing football, soccer and baseball in the fall and lacrosse, baseball and soccer in the spring. You see kids changing in parking lots as they run — with frazzled parents in tow — from practice to practice to practice and then from game to game to game. One kid I know played soccer, hockey and lacrosse last spring and wanted to play baseball, too, but his parents but the kibosh on that. “We had to draw the line at three sports,” they told me.
My parents never would have tolerated such foofaraw. They would have said, “You want to play another sport? Get a game going in the neighborhood.”
I blame Bo Jackson, the first athlete to be a baseball All-Star and a football All Pro, with a side order of grief saved for Deion Sanders – the only person to score a touchdown and hit a homerun at the major league level in the same day. Before they hit the scene it was enough to excel in one sport. Now you are nothing if you don’t carry at least three different sets of cleats in equipment bags that hold more stuff than the suitcase I needed to go off to college.
Unfortunately the kids suffer two-fold. One, by playing multiple sports simultaneously they cannot get better at any of them because they do not have the time to practice what they learn. The other detriment stems from the fact that most parents are so busy juggling games and practices (not to mention academics and family life) they do not have the time to get more involved in any one sport. The boards of various baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer leagues all suffer from the strain of too few volunteers trying to do too much of the work that used to be spread amongst more parents.
I would love to see these leagues mandate that boys and girls be required to commit to one sport and one sport only per season. Doing so might reduce the child’s chances of becoming the next Bo or Deion, but it would also help the child learn about making and sticking to commitments while maybe, just maybe, getting a little better at playing his or her sport of choice.