Footballs are set aside before a high school football game between Westminster and Greater Atlanta Christian in Norcross.
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC

‘Schedules should allow for multi-sport athletes’

Each week, five high school coaches will discuss one issue that affects Georgia high school sports.Last week: Home-schooled athletes 

It really comes down to how good you are.

Jeff Francoeur didn’t need to concentrate on one high school sport because he was arguably one the top of multi-sports athletes the state has produced. Football scholarship from Clemson, then selected No. 23 by the Braves in the 2002 baseball draft. 

Georgia Tech football’s all-time leading scorer Harrison Butker, who just won a Super Bowl ring with the Kansas City Chiefs, played soccer, basketball and kicked for the football team at Westminster. He said he didn’t need to specialize — one sport helped the other.

But other athletes across the state who need to concentrate on one sport in an effort to obtain major-college scholarships, are specializing. In many cases, the sport is picked in junior high, and the high school years are devoted to mastering that sport. As a result, the multi-sport athlete isn’t dying in Georgia, but the numbers are declining.

Are there benefits for both? Yes. The multi-sport athlete faces less of a chance of burnout from focusing on one sport all year. The specialized athlete learns discipline. 

So there’s your issue. What’s the best route — specialization in one sport or being the best you can be in two sports? Or three?

The skinny: Since taking over as head coach in 2012, Tim Hardy has led the Spartans to the playoffs each season, including semifinal exits in 2012, 2015, 2017 and last season. Hardy also led Greater Atlanta Christian to state championship appearances in 2014 and 2016.

Most recently, Hardy watched one of his top-tier football players, current Michigan defensive tackle Chris Hinton Jr., play center on GAC’s 2018 AAA state champion basketball team. 

Hardy has seen the benefits of not specializing at the high school level.

Hardy: “I really believe in the multi-sport athlete; it's the way to go for many reasons. First, from a pure physical development standpoint the science is obvious that repeating the same movement patterns over and over limit the long-term development of any athlete. So hopefully our GHSA teachers and coaches are in it for much more than making kids great athletes. Which so many are. Our state is blessed with amazing coaches who love to pour their hearts, minds and bodies into their athletes. But if you just had the physical focus, that is all you cared about, you would not specialize at a young age. You would not. It has more long-term negative than positive effects.

 “And so you see some of these stories of the diversity of movement to go from being a safety on a football team to be in a guard on the basketball team, to be in a shortstop on the baseball team or you are a wrestler on the lacrosse team or a volleyball girl who swims or whatever. It is outstanding.

 “And what it does is really broadens your athletic base and your growth and development. And so, to me, when you see people who are pushing this single-sport specialization, you really need to back up for a second and see who is pushing it. No one at a higher level is doing that. No college coach is saying, ‘Hey, we want people to stop playing other sports.’ It is the exact opposite. They’re asking for those players who have done other things. Who’s more important to a baseball coach, the kid who hits .425 and all he does is play baseball 365 (days a year) or the kid who hits .395 and was an all-state wide receiver? It is not even close. Not even close. ... I have never had a college coach in any sport say he wishes his athlete only played one sport. So when someone’s putting that pressure on you, you have to think who's putting that pressure. It’s the person at the lower level, right? It is a person who really does not have your best interests in mind. Because what is the best interest for the student-athlete clearly is to continue to develop a broad base of skills and develop. 

“So I think there’s a lot of responsibility on the coaches to understand that the scheduling is important to allow multiple-sport athletes. More is not always better. The difference between playing 25 summer baseball games and 75 summer baseball games is not three times better, not even close. So you have to be willing to say, ‘I'm going to be on the cross country team because I can run, and I’m not going to give that up to play more baseball games.’ And so I think it's really incumbent on the adults to help educate our parents to create opportunities for student-athletes to enjoy multiple things.”

AT ISSUE: Multi-sport athletes vs. specialization

Jeff Francoeur, former Parkview multi-sport star
Harrison Butker, former Westminster multi-sport star
Tim McFarlin, Blesses Trinity coach
Rush Propst, Valdosta coach
Tim Hardy, Greater Atlanta Christian coach
» MORE: Previous topics

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