Multisport athletes search for a balance

Alex Jensen and Elizabeth Stoeger

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One of the most significant controversies in the sports world today is the debate about whether multisport or single-sport athletes have a better chance for success. In the youth arena, there has been a growing stigma around competing in multiple sports because of the idea that young athletes need to specialize if they want to stand out.

At Linfield, the notion of multisport athletes is less contentious, at least for the considerable number of students who play multiple sports.

“It’s all I’ve ever known is to play both,” said Kory Oleson, a sophomore who competes in basketball and softball. “[I] have always wanted to play both for as long as I could. There was never one I felt that I could get rid of and be happy with it.”

Senior Genna Hughes, a dual basketball and lacrosse athlete, said, “I think being able to play in both sports does more good than harm. I am able to really focus on playing defense and how to move my feet, which are key aspects in both games.”

Sophomore Molly Danielson who is on the court then in the field putting the shot and throwing the discus and hammer agreed. “I wouldn’t want to trade it because it is difficult changing around and adapting to each team, but I get a lot of joy out of both. I couldn’t imagine college without my sports or at least having experienced both and am just glad I stepped into the position and took it on.”

One of the most telling findings from a study conducted by American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine was that many professional athletes have expressed the sentiment that they do not want their own childrem to play a single sport during their adolescence. Four-time first-team all-pro NFL player J.J. Watt tweeted, “If someone encourages your child to specialize in a single sport, that person generally does not have your child’s best interests in mind.”

Of the 253 players drafted in the 2017 NFL, nearly 90 percent played multiple sports in high school.

On the other hand, specializing can lead to perfecting and mastering the skills required for that sport because they focus on one sport and one set of skills.

So, do multisport athletes have an advantage in competition that single-sport athletes do not?

Playing different sports teaches the body to move in different ways and can limit the risk of injury, especially caused by overuse, according to a consensus statement from the American Medical Society for Sport Medicine.

At the same time, playing multiple sports can help develop diverse skill sets that can complement different sports. If a basketball player also plays lacrosse, it can improve both footwork and hand-eye coordination. Or a player’s tall, lanky frame can give her an advantage on the basketball court as well as a longer range to reach for balls in the softball infield. Or another basketball player’s quickness can add to her explosion when catapulting a metal ball or disc into the air.

All three athletes said they could not pass up the opportunity to compete in their secondary sport when they came to Linfield. Hughes said she was recruited to play basketball for the school but when the former lacrosse head coach Kat Enders asked her to play, she said, “I couldn’t say no.”

Danielson saw it similarly. She said not doing track would have been a missed opportunity. Oleson knew that coming to Linfield would be a better fit for her and allow her a chance to play both sports.

Unlike Hughes and Oleson, who have been playing their respective sports from a much younger age, Danielson did not find track until her junior year of high school. She had played basketball since the third grade and decided to then pick up throwing. Continuing to compete in college allows her to improve her skills and keep her competitive edge for basketball.

Because she is an extremely competitive person, Danielson said, “I honestly couldn’t imagine myself taking any months off from a sport.”

Hughes has also been playing basketball since the third grade and started lacrosse in the sixth. She said growing up she played every sport possible but eventually stuck with the two that she liked the most and seemed to be the most successful at.

Since she was 4 or 5 years old, Oleson has been playing both basketball and softball. “It’s not too hard because I’ve done it my whole life,” she said. It comes easily to her to “do what my team needs me to do.”

Not only are Danielson, Hughes and Oleson multisport athletes but they also compete in back-to-back seasons, which means they are competing competitively for about seven months straight. All three go from being on the court together straight into being on the field in different teams with different cultures.

Hughes and Oleson said that the benefit of going right into another season is that they are already in shape from basketball. Since both of them have also been playing their respective sports for many years, switching between them physically is not a large issue.

Oleson recounted how sore she is initially going into softball because the sport uses different muscles but after a couple weeks, she’s fully in the new sport. Hughes said the same; after a few practices she’s in
lacrosse mode.

“The most difficult part is keeping up the stick skills in lacrosse and ball handling skills in basketball, thankfully though because I have been playing each sport for so long it doesn’t take me that long to get back in the hang of it,” Hughes said.

But the mental switch can be more difficult than the physical one. Each team has its own unique dynamic that resembles families. Oleson said joining a new family after basketball was tough, especially since the softball team is nearly twice the size of the basketball team.

A new team also meant a change in roles for her. Oleson said coming from being in the starting line-up and playing in every basketball game to only competing a fraction of that time in softball was an adjustment for her. She says it is a natural challenge for her to stay focused during an entire softball game.

For Danielson, she not only finds herself in a new role but also in the spotlight as an individual.

On the basketball court, the focus is on the team but when she competes in shot put, discus and hammer, everyone watches her. Danielson said she loved both sports but would rather the whole team be spotlighted.

“In basketball you can have a bad game or a few bad shots and can recover because you still have 40 minutes to play but in throwing you only have three throws,” Danielson said. Throwing has helped her mental game in basketball because it translates to being stronger emotionally and more composed.

Hughes found that switching between two team sports was not as daunting as some might think: “They have a lot of the same basic principles that make the switch easy, like on defense, hand-eye coordination and being able to make quick decisions in high stress level games.”

The continuity that playing two sports provides is an advantage for Hughes. “Having back-to-back seasons also helps me continue to have good organization between homework and practice schedules,” she said. “It is also nice to go into lacrosse season already in shape from basketball season and not have that factor to slow down my transition.”

It is not easy to be an athlete and it takes even more hard work to compete in multiple ones. Linfield recognizes that there are advantages to specializing or not.

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Multisport athletes search for a balance