Blessed Trinity players warm up before a game in 2015.
Photo: John Amis/For the AJC
Photo: John Amis/For the AJC

‘It’s their four years, not ours’

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: Tim McFarlin is a throw-back coach. In the age of growing specialization in high school athletics, McFarlin favors multi-sport athletes and even opts not to schedule spring football practice so his football players have the opportunities to play other sports. 

McFarlin has been at Blessed Trinity since 2011 and led the Titans to state championships the past three seasons in Class AAAA before reclassifying to AAAAA for 2020. He coached at Roswell from 1998-2007 and won a state championship in 2006 with the Hornets. 

McFarlin has seen his fair share of athletes throughout his career and has realized that the players’ options and opportunities should not be limited by a football coach who wants his players year-round.

McFarlin: “I don’t know what we do (not having spring practice) would fit everybody, and I think there’s a big difference between rural Georgia and metro Atlanta because metro Atlanta was so involved with lacrosse and that kind of changed things. But even back in 2006-07 when I was at Roswell with our staff, we were having discussions about spring football. And the good news is we had an older bunch of guys — five of us were together for 30 years — and we just felt like we needed to have an honest conversation about the fact that football is a team sport. You go into spring ball and you get you get kids playing baseball, running track, playing soccer and lacrosse. So when I retired and took the job at Blessed Trinity, I just thought it was a good opportunity to really consider talking about not having spring practice and see how it works. 

“What I noticed immediately is that it took a lot of pressure off the kids. I was a baseball player in high school and played football, baseball, basketball and ran track. That was 100 years ago (laughs), but our kids are afraid to express that they want to play multiple sports, especially if a coach leans on them a little bit about they need to do (one sport) year-round. We've seen every sport ... baseball goes into the fall, and basketball you can go year-round. In football, now that 7-on-7’s are out there, if we’re not careful, we’re gonna do the same thing. But we just made the decision not to hold spring practice, and I think it became attractive to our kids. If a kid’s not playing a winter or spring sport, our weight room is open four days a week, and we are in there and we work with our kids. But they really appreciate the fact that we go watch track meets and baseball games and watch our football guys participate in the other sports. I think it has been healthy for our school environment. 

“Three things are critical:

“1. we need to all remember, it’s their four years, not ours. A young man or woman has four years of his or her life to have a high school experience. And I think it is so important that we encourage them to experience that to the fullest. We know that helps us.

“2. I would say as coaches none of us know what a 15-year-old athlete is going to look like when he's 21 or 22. And we could throw the projections out there and we can dangle the carrots and say, ‘Oh, if you go year-round, I think you can play major-league baseball or the NBA or go to the NFL.’ That’s just simply not true.

“And, 3. We feel like it really opens up recruiting for these kids. I've not found one college coach who didn't appreciate the multi-sport athlete. As a matter of fact, I've had a lot of baseball coaches say to me, ‘Hey, we love it when our guys play football; it makes them mentally tougher.’

“And so what we’ve noticed is that we think the better athletes are multi-sport guys.”

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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