To Play or Not to Play Multiple Sports?

Multiple Sport Athlete

Do you play baseball all year round?  Or, do you play another sport during baseball’s off-season?

Can being a multi-sport athlete help your development as a baseball player?

According to Elsbeth Vaino, 82% of the top 10 athletes in 2012 from the four major team sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) played multiple sports growing up.1

When considering Vaino’s statistic of 82%, the case for playing more than one sport seems pretty clear.  Is it a prerequisite for success? No, but the chances of extending one’s career and playing at a high level are much better.

But why?

Different sports require different skills – overhead throwing, sprinting, cutting, rotating, jumping.  The best athletes in the world are those who possess the ability to perform each of those skills well.  How do they acquire and develop those skills?  Playing different sports.

Specialization and Injuries

That’s not to say an athlete who only plays baseball cannot succeed.  After all, you cannot become a better hitter without all of those reps in the cage.  And you cannot develop as a pitcher without working on your craft in the bullpen.  But when all of those throws, reps, and drills are piled onto each other over the course of a full year, the risk of overuse injuries begins to rise.

The game of baseball is perhaps the most specialized sport there is, and specializing in just baseball can take a toll on the young ballplayer’s body.  The rotation involved in every throw and swing make the game so one-sided in terms of movement, that asymmetries and muscle imbalances can cause unwanted issues if they are not addressed.  Then there is the overhead nature of the sport.  The overhead throw is one of the fastest and most demanding motions in sports.

In fact, internal rotation of the humerus during throwing can reach velocities of 6,100-9,000º/sec.2  Imagine that happening hundreds of times a day, or thousands of times per week.  If the athlete does not take a break from throwing, something eventually has to give.

Dr. James Andrews, best known for his work with Tommy John and ACL surgeries, has seen a five- to sevenfold increase in injury rates in youth sports since 2000.3  According to Dr. Andrews, one of the biggest factors for this rise in injuries is specialization.

“Specialization leads to playing the sport year-round.  That means not only an increase in risk factors for traumatic injuries but a sky-high increase in overuse injuries.  Almost half of sports injuries in adolescents stem from overuse.” -Dr. James Andrews

The Importance of an Off-Season

This is why the off-season is so important for ballplayers.  The off-season is the perfect time to give your arm some much needed rest.  The thousands upon thousands of throws that accumulated over the previous season can add up, and whether you feel it or not, there may be some lingering arm issues.

Baseball Periodization

From the time you finish your last game, plan on an 8-10 week layoff from throwing. For the ballplayer who is not a multi-sport athlete, use this time to really focus on your strength and conditioning program.

While your teammates move on to a different sport, your strength and conditioning program becomes your other sport.

Work on the movements that the game of baseball neglects.  Work to build strength in your legs, torso, back, and scapular stabilizers.  Get plenty of soft tissue work in and do not ignore your flexibility and mobility work.  The return on your investment here will be huge when you pick the baseball back up to begin throwing around early November.

The Well-Rounded Athlete

All injury talk aside, kids who play multiple sports typically have a better well-rounded sports experience.  They usually have better overall make-up and can be more attractive to college recruiters.  They learn different coaching styles, interact with different types of athletes, and learn to mentally handle the challenge that each sport presents.  There is also a certain level of social interaction that occurs across different sports that can help an athlete become a better well-rounded person.

So, if you are a mutli-sport athlete, do not quit playing other sports to focus just on baseball.  Your long term athletic development will be better because of your variety of experiences.  If you are fortunate enough to play baseball after high school, then you can think about narrowing your focus.

If you currently only play baseball, you don’t need to go searching for another sport to play – especially if you have no desire to play another sport.  Just make sure to have an off-season. Rest your body and have a quality game plan for your strength and conditioning program so you can come into the following season stronger and better prepared.

What are your thoughts?  How many of you are multi-sport athletes?  Do you focus on just baseball?  Use the comments below to tell us your background and the reason for playing just baseball or multiple sports.

——

References

  1. Vaino, E. (26 June 2012). Does early specialization help? ElsbethVaino.com. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from http://elsbethvaino.com/2012/06/does-early-specialization-help/
  2. Ellenbecker TS, Mattalino AJ. Concentric Isokinetic Shoulder Internal and External Rotation Strength in Professional Baseball Pitchers. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1997;25(3):323-328.
  3. Manoloff, D. (27 February 2013). Noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews wants your young athlete to stay healthy by playing less. Cleveland.com. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from http://www.cleveland.com/dman/index.ssf/2013/02/noted_surgeon_dr_james_andrews.html
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About The Author

Phil Tognetti, CSCS

Phil Tognetti, CSCS, is the founder and editor of The Full Windup. He has written the eBook ARMing for Success which teaches players and coaches how to set up a proper throwing program. You can learn more about him here and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Sylvain Bouchard

    I have a two-sport-playing son myself. He’s just turned 8. Already four seasons of baseball under his belt now. And soon to wrap up his first season of football, which (he says) he loves just the same…

    Should he continue both (he’s above average in both) ??? What could or should be a reasonable “off season” for him ? Should I NOT go ahead with my intention to sign him up for (indoor) winter baseball AND football ? Could just one hour a week of martial arts (for which he is already signed up) be enough sport for him till spring?

    Lots of things I am wondering about… :/