A few years ago, the season after the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl; we hosted a small group of SpringHill friends at a Colts preseason practice session where we had a few minutes with Coach Tony Dungy. During the Q&A time one of the questions our group asked Coach Dungy was “what are the qualities the Colts look for in players?”
He responded without even thinking about his answer, reflecting the deeply held values he and the Colts had about the kind of players they looked for. Coach Dungy said there were three things they expected from every player:
- Players had to be smart. To help assess this quality one of the things the Colts did was simply reviewed the academic records of players being considered for their team.
- Players had to be goal orientated. The Colts evaluated this quality by asking potential players to state their goals for their career and their life.
- Players had to be team players: Before drafting or signing players the Colts asked a number of current teammates of a potential player to name the 10 people on their team they’d most want to play with on future teams. If a potential player didn’t make these lists the Colts won’t sign them.
Simple, straightforward yet imagine if all the players on the team you’re currently on, whether it’s a sports team or a business or ministry team, had all three of these qualities. What kind of team would it be? What championships might you win?43.928283-85.286682
Its mind-boggling what varsity sports have become at many high schools. Because of my work I talk to parents all across the country about their kids. They’ve shared with me what it takes to make a high school varsity team. And frankly I’m amazed and, at some levels, appalled at what high school coaches often ask of students and their parents.
For example, one young woman I know was clearly told that if she wanted a chance to play on the varsity soccer team she had to begin playing soccer year around, meaning she couldn’t play any other sports. Ok, I understand commitment to your sport but the issue in this case was the young woman was in 6th grade. Yes, 6th grade. How could any high school coach or school tell or strongly suggest athletes begin to specialize in a sport in 6th grade? How can 6th graders make such a choice between sports?
When you’re in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade you should be playing lots of sports, experimenting, learning what you like, and what you may be gifted at. When I was in 6th grade my favorite sport was the one that was in season. There’s no way I could have picked between baseball, basketball, tennis and football, all of which I played recreationally and loved during their proper season.
Worse yet, what if the student picks the wrong sport when they’re in 6th grade, invest years in “the one sport” and then they stop growing or discovery there’s 10 goalies in the program? It means a student who loves sports, sacrificed and worked hard may not play at the varsity level.
Ironically, many professional sports teams look for college athletes who’ve played multiple sports in high school because they’re usually better athletes. Research has also shown that multiple sport athletes develop better physically and are less likely to be injured. Encouraging multi-sport athletes sounds like a sound philosophy for a high school varsity coach to adopt if they want to build a program around better and stronger athletes.
Now hear me when I say this, I don’t believe every athlete has to be a multi-sport athlete at the varsity level. But I do believe it’s healthier (and saner) for elementary and middle school athletes to be so. And to encourage anything less is a disservice to the athlete and most likely to the program as well.
The question we parents and schools need to face is – will this generation of kids look back on their athletic experiences and ask us “why did sports have to be so serious at 6th grade? It took the joy out of being a kid.”43.928283-85.286682
With fall comes high school sports and for the past 7 falls I’ve been oh so thankful our kids attend a small class D school. Why? Because all of my kids have had every opportunity to participate in all the sports they’ve wanted to. You see at small schools, everyone who wants to be an athlete can be, and anyone who wants to be on the team, is on the team.
Even this fall, our youngest son Jonathan, decided he wanted to play soccer again but also try cross-country. So our school’s coaches and administration have worked it out for him and 3 other students to “dual sport”. This is an incredible opportunity for Jonathan to find out how much he really likes running without giving up his spot on the soccer team.
In addition, Jonathan, along with his brother Mitch, can play a sport all three seasons, to be a “3 sport athlete” if they choose. And this is true of every student in our little school.
Now it’s also true that being a “three sport” or “dual sport” athlete doesn’t create specialized athletes who might have a better chance to play Division 1 (though Class D athletes do play Division 1). But many of our students have opportunities to play Division 3 and NAIA sports in college if they choose. And the reality is not many students who specialize in a sport at larger high schools end up playing Division 1 or 2. So the truth is there’s nothing lost in being a well-rounded athlete, but so much to gain.
But why I’m really thankful each fall, isn’t because my kids can be three sport athletes, but because the small school environment allows high school sports to be what they’re supposed to be – opportunities to learn life transforming lessons outside of the classroom. It seems that this purpose is so easily lost when winning and scholarships become more important than providing opportunities for as many students as possible to learn the valuable lessons that sports teach so well.43.928283-85.286682