2018 Coaches Report: Fighting sport specialization
For seven years, Coach & Athletic Director has published a report examining high school sports through the eyes of the athletic director. The success of our annual State of the Industry survey, and the insight it has provided athletic administrators nationwide, encouraged us to begin the same analysis with sport coaches.
Our inaugural Coaches Report explores a handful of the biggest issues in team sports — coach-parent relationships, sport specialization, club and travel leagues, administrative support. As with our athletic director survey, our goal is to identify the greatest challenges and opportunities in the coaching profession. This helps shape Coach & Athletic Director’s content and provides valuable insight for coaches everywhere.This year’s survey of 488 coaches confirmed some suspicions and offered a few surprises (see results below). Nearly all coaches oppose single-sport participation, and most of them openly encourage their athletes to take up other sports. And while combative parents continue to be a headache for coaches everywhere, an overwhelming majority said they have a healthy relationship with moms and dads.
Here’s a closer look at some of our findings.
High school coaches almost unanimously agree that athletes should play multiple sports, according to our survey.
Numerous studies over the last three years concluded that single-sport participation has a negative impact on performance, leading mostly to overuse injuries. It’s also a cause of burnout, as athletes grow tired of playing the same sport year-round. The most recent study, presented this spring at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ annual meeting, found that more than half of all parents encourage their children to specialize in hopes of increasing their chances of earning a college scholarship.
More than 92 percent of high school coaches said they actively encourage their athletes to participate in other sports at their schools. Some schools honor multi-sport athletes at their year-end banquet, and others invite guest speakers to talk about the value of diversifying athletic experiences.
“I always tell them that it’s better to play multiple sports to stay in shape and become more agile,” one coach said. “This eventually adds to their overall strength and endurance and keeps them motivated to go back and play their favorite sport.”
“High school sports exist to bolster the educational process,” said another coach. “Multi-sport and multi-discipline student-athletes gain more life perspective and person growth due to broader experiences. Learning to compete is a major function at this level. This can be done best through participation in various sports and activities.”
Some coaches, while they support multiple sports, said they chose not to discuss it with their athletes.
“I do not make recommendations either way because that’s a parent-player decision,” said one high school coach. “I do support those who are playing multiple sports, and I don’t make it impossible to do when I schedule practices. I also do not forbid them from playing a club sport during our school season, because I know that we need to share athletes. But I do say that the school sport should take priority over an out-of-season club sport.”