In high school, I played soccer all 4 years, ran track my freshman year, played baseball my sophomore year and had a good showing at my high school’s basketball camp the summer between freshman and sophomore year. I had been approached about playing football because of my size, but because football and soccer are in the same season and I couldn’t do both, I chose soccer.
After my sophomore year I made a decision that frustrates me today with the athletes I work with; I quit everything to “specialize” in one sport. My reasons for doing so had nothing to do with my parents filling my head with delusions that I was some kind of phenom but I did have my sights set on earning a scholarship and maybe even getting to the pros some day…like many current high school kids. I wasn’t looking to gain stature or bragging rights by doing this, I did it because I loved soccer and I actually needed to have a scholarship to help pay for school because my parents couldn’t afford it. Regardless of my motives, I did it but I didn't necessarily need to, even though I ultimately earned a Division I soccer scholarship and played professionally for a few years.
Before you call me a hypocrite, hear me out. I chose not to play high school basketball, or continue baseball or track because “club” soccer ran through the winter and spring. While I technically could have done both club and high school sports at the same time, I thought it would be too much. Looking back, quitting all other sports to play club the other 9 months a year wasn’t the reason I excelled in soccer. It was because I was a decent athlete who, with the help of a high school coach, learned how to also lift weights and eat right. This was followed by getting a chance to further develop as a soccer player at Forest Park Community College (Thank you Pat McBride), and then by getting pushed beyond my mental & physical limits at Missouri State University (Thank you Jon Leamy).
I believe God had a purpose for my life and I believe it played out the way he wanted to. But, I also believe I could have achieved the same level of success in soccer and be doing exactly what I am doing to today had I chose to continue playing multiple sports in my final 2 years of high school. While there are physical benefits to playing multiple sports (you use different movement patterns, muscles, and joints therefore preventing some of the overuse injuries kids get by playing the same thing year round) and mental benefits (less chance of burnout) I think of something else I missed…the complete high school sports experience.
I wish I would have taken the opportunity to be on the basketball court in a packed gym on a Tuesday night or use my athletic ability to help the baseball program, or using the solitude of the track to grow as a person as well as an athlete; or maybe even taken one season to experience Friday night high school football. Now, I know kids can’t play every sport in high school and it would be difficult for a coach to build a program if they had kids in and out every year, and “club” sports are not bad in and of themselves. But closing one’s self off to a variety of athletic opportunities to specialize in one sport for the very slim chance of earning a scholarship and/or a pro career isn't worth it to me. The odds are so greatly stacked against high school student athletes in achieving either of those things, that the risk doesn't match the reward.
Add to that, the high school sports experience can yield so much joy by creating relationships that can’t come from a club team, or allowing you to feel an energy in your school’s gym or stadium that can’t be matched on an obscure field during an out of town weekend tournament, or by feeling the sense of pride and family that comes from winning a district, conference or state title for your SCHOOL with kids you’ve known since your ages were in the single digits.
Lastly, getting the whole high school sports experience doesn’t mean your approach to sports has to be laze fair or you can’t work to be the best you can be. But, it does mean you can look back on your high school sports career and not have to say “I wish I would have taken the opportunity to”……. even if you did go D-I and turn pro.
About Dave Schall: Dave has been the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Westminster Christian Academy for the past 6 years. He is a former Division I and Professional Soccer player and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education and Health and a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology and Physical Education. Dave earned a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential in 2000. He has been married to Stephanie for 8 years and has a 5-year old daughter Madeline and a 2 1/2-year old son Colton.