More athletes specializing in only one sport
It took a couple tries to get Hillsboro junior cross country runner Lauren Lykins on the phone. When she finally called me back, she first addressed me as Mr. Alexander (something I am pretty sure I will never be used to) and then apologized for not getting back to me sooner.
I was at basketball tryouts, Lykins said.
Lykins telling me she was at basketball tryouts less than two weeks after running in the OSAA Class 6A state meet threw me even more than being called Mr. Alexander.
Covering sports for a living is a funny occupation. You immerse yourself in the teams that you are following to the point that when a season ends, you can never quite believe that it is over or that a new season is beginning. Excluding the Century football team, the fall sports season is over for all the other Hillsboro area prep teams.
Time marches on in the world of high school sports. You finish one season and you are on to the next.
That was the way it used to be, anyway.
As I thought about Lykins moving on from cross country and into basketball season, I thought about the kids who are done competing for the winter, or even until next fall.
Specializing is nothing new in the world of high school sports. Kids figure they can be better at one sport than they can at two, or three. And when the stakes are continuing to play sports after high school, that becomes a very appealing option.
I want to go to college and to go to college you need a scholarship, Lykins said.
We live in an age when college students are racking up debt that exceeds $100,000. So you can understand Lykins or any other prep athlete using the word need when it applies to scholarships.
Athletes like Lykins, who play multiple sports, are continuing to become more and more rare.
I was shocked when Liberty cross country coach David Douglas told me that freshman runner Rachel Khaw was competing on the cross country team on top of playing midfielder and defender on the Falcons varsity soccer team.
Khaw finished in 10th place at the OSAA Class 5A state meet despite only training for cross country two mornings a week for 45 minutes.
As she gets older, you wonder whether Khaw will continue to play multiple sports. I hope that she, like Lykins, does.
I cannot sit behind my computer and tell kids that they should not focus on one sport, go at it as hard as they can and see how good they can be. Not when such advice could have them drowning in debt down the line.
What I can say is that during my time covering prep sports I have seen a lot more athletes who regret specializing than ones who are happy with the choice.
Leave alone everything that an athlete misses out on by giving up other sports that they love. Leave alone the fact that even focusing on one sport, the chances of earning a scholarship are slim. By taking themselves out of multiple sports, athletes lose valuable learning experiences about competition.
It is a lot easier to come to bat with two outs and the bases load in the bottom of the seventh inning when you have lined up for the start of a state championship cross country meet, no?
As Lykins talked to me about basketball and cross country, she lamented the cross country training that she misses out on by playing basketball.
Running is a year-long sport and because I play basketball I cant really run during the winter season to prepare for track, Lykins said, adding that she is going to try her best to train through this basketball season.
Hearing the tension in Lykins voice, I asked her whether her first love was cross country or basketball. Lykins gave me the best answer I have heard for a long time.
I just love being involved in sports, she said. Ever since I was little Ive always loved playing sports.
A lot of kids who feel that same way do not make the decision that Lykins has made, or the decision that Khaw has made so far. With scholarships on the line I cannot tell kids that they should make the decision not to specialize.
I wish that they would, though.
Someday they might, too.