Sport Specialization Hurting Athletes, Programs in Calif. Schools

October 18, 2013 /
San Francisco Chronicle

Of the 54 football players at Serra-San Mateo, 39 play another sport. Head coach Patrick Walsh doesn’t like that.

He wishes more of them would play a second sport.

“I hate specialization,” he said. “It makes no sense, in my opinion.”

The trend toward specialization in youth sports, in which athletes play one sport year-round for expensive travel and club teams, has had a significant impact on traditional high school programs, which have declined in popularity and participation. The specialization trend has hurt baseball at Serra-San Mateo, and it “definitely” has hurt his football program, Walsh said. Club sports have “devoured” high school soccer, he said.

“A lot of kids feel they have to play 70 baseball games in a summer or play basketball for an AAU team,” Walsh said. “Our preseason is the summer. We’ve had a lot of very good athletes quit football because of that.”

Specialization didn’t wreak as much havoc on head coach Ken Peralta’s program at Marin Catholic-Kentfield for seven years before he moved to Sacred Heart Cathedral this year.

“A good, strong program, it’s not going to affect that much,” he said, “but it’s really a disservice to the kids. It’s sad. High school sports are about building the whole person. This cuts off one of the arms.”

Sue Phillips, who has one of the most successful girls basketball programs in Northern California at Mitty-San Jose, thinks every high school would benefit from having more multi-sport athletes.

“That’s not what’s happening,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, and the kids are missing out.”

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