How many times as a kid were you asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Some of us say president, while others dream of being athletes. Our young minds are easily influenced by our heroes, yet as our heroes change and we grow older, our ideas about what we want to be start to shift.
The fact that little kids are even asked this question is terrible. It proves an important point: As a child, what you want to do when you grow up isn’t important. Goals are subject to change constantly in our journey through life. Our goals are always transient, never static.
I played baseball throughout my childhood. As a rising ninth grader, I played club level in the summer. Playing club baseball meant a twelve-month baseball season, so that year I began the process of dedicating my life to baseball. The beginning of the season always felt like a fresh start. A new team, new coaches, and a fresh .000 batting average awaited me.
As soon as freshman year came, new questions were asked: Are you planning on going DI or DIII? How many spots does the coach have? Are you going to the HeadFirst Showcase? Are you an A-Band, B-Band, or C-Band? These questions aren’t specific to baseball. The college recruiting process is similar to a supply-and-demand relationship. There’s an excess supply of players and not enough demand from various colleges. Thus, every player and parent do everything they can to get recruited. All other secondary sports are forgotten. It’s all about that specialized sport.
A three-sport year for many turned into one sport. Instead of using all your muscles across many sports, certain muscle groups are over-used. Other muscles and skills used in other sports aren’t trained. The physical toll that specialization puts on a body is tremendous; the mental burden is far worse. I felt trapped in baseball. I felt that I had gone too far to back out. I had invested too much time to give up. I began to dread buckling my All-Star shin guards. Baseball felt like a job rather than a passion.
Many of my friends only played one sport. Their need to get recruited took over their athletic childhood. For some, it started in high school. For others, the recruiting trail started well before then. It is 24/7 your sport.
As junior year hit, it was still baseball 24/7, and I was getting tired of it. I did showcase camps at different NESCAC schools, and I had meetings with several coaches. By the end of that year, however, I had fallen completely out of love with the game.
The recruiting, the endless doubleheaders on hot summer weekends, and various injuries burned me out.
I arrived at Wesleyan with a choice. Coaches from home really wanted me to walk on to play baseball, but I wanted something new. Even though I had decided to specialize in baseball, I threw all that out.
I decided to walk on to the men’s crew team. Crew is significantly different than baseball, beyond the obvious factors. I could have a quality nine-pitch at bat but still strikeout on a two-seamer that comes back and catches the corner. Or I could hit a frozen rope that is caught by the shortstop. In crew, I found that results came from focus, effort, and discipline. Crew skills don’t overlap with baseball ones, but my mental frustration that stemmed from baseball turned into mental toughness in crew. Every time we’re doing a tough workout, I think back to my baseball days when luck would be a large factor in my success. I use that mindset as rocket fuel to grind through the rest of the crew workout because I know that only one thing will determine my success: effort. I wouldn’t be rowing without the skills I gained from baseball.
In fact, many successful athletes have a history playing multiple sports: Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Todd Helton, LeBron James, Tim Tebow, and Chris Hogan, for starters.
Chris Hogan, a wide receiver for the Patriots, played lacrosse and football in college. He’s not the fastest guy, but he has a great release off the line of scrimmage—not allowing defensive backs to jam him so he can get into his route quickly with his defender playing catch up. He gained those release skills from playing attack at Penn State, beating defensemen with stutters and head fakes that he uses every Sunday.
If kids specialize in one sport at an early age, they’re essentially preventing themselves from developing into better athletes.
The world tells us to specialize in everything. Pre-med, pre-law, baseball player, football player. Instead, we should be athletes and thinkers. Before we reach a time in our lives where we have to make a decision on what best fits our passion and skill set, we should enjoy getting better in areas that might need improvement. When that day comes when we need to choose, we can attack the objective with an arsenal of skills developed in our many life experiences.
Andrew Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.