Cubs manager Joe Maddon speaks out against specialization

March 18, 2015 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
Sport specialization is an ongoing debate amongst parents and coaches, but talk to leaders at the highest levels and you’ll discover overwhelming support for multi-sport athletes.

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon | Photo: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon | Photo: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is the latest to blast single-sport athletes and those who encourage specialization. The Chicago Sun-Times published a short piece Tuesday looking at Maddon’s preference for multi-sport athletes, including some of the team members that have benefitted from playing two or more sports.

Maddon himself played catcher and freshman team quarterback at Lafayette College. Last month, ESPN surveyed 128 current and former NFL quarterbacks and found that 125 of them played at least two sports in high school.

Even Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt had this to say:

It’s becoming clear that even the best talent in America’s top sports encourage multi-sport participation, yet specialization continues to be a problem.

Cubs centerfielder Dexter Fowler, who was traded from Houston this offseason, played basketball and baseball as a young athlete, and it wasn’t until his senior year of high school he decided to focus on baseball.

From the Sun-Times:

Joe Maddon wished more high schoolers were allowed to make that decision as late as Fowler. This week, the Cubs manager railed against the thought that kids have to pick one sport in middle school, and focus on nothing else.

“That’s why I hate the specialization with kids, when they’re playing on these travel squads when they’re like 12, 13, 14 years old, only dedicated to one thing,” he said. “Traveling all the time. Paying exorbitant amounts of money to play baseball with hopes they’re going to become a professional baseball player.

“I think that’s crazy.”

“I love cross-pollination when it comes to athletes,” Maddon said. “You get guys that did not just play baseball, meaning they’ve been around a different set of coaches and styles and ways to get in shape and thoughts. I love that.”

The article also notes that former Chicago Bears General Manager Phil Emery was partial to multi-sport athletes. He preferred wrestlers and centerfielders, who he believed had a gift for learning to anticipate and track a fly ball at a young age.

Coach and Athletic Director last month surveyed readers, asking who was to blame for single-sport specialization among young athletes. Nearly 53% faulted club sports coaches.

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