Playing Lots of Sports Before Specialization

Athletic Recruiting, College Recruiting, College Sports
Michael Phelps competed in lacrosse before focusing on swimming. And he still plays golf (photo credit: Agência Brasil Fotografias).

We came across a quote from Bob Bowman that we wanted to share with our readers. For those not familiar with Bob Bowman, he is one of the great swimming coaches of all time. In fact, he coached Michael Phelps from when he was a little tyke all the way through each moment of Phelps’ Olympic glory. Heck, he still coaches him now since Phelps and his family live nearby Bowman’s Arizona State University training facility. So what’s the quote, you ask? Wonder no more.

Playing Multiple Sports Early On Can Be Good and Even Help Your Development in a Specialty Sport

“Michael Phelps didn’t train twice a day year round until he was 14. Nowadays, some coaches encourage weight lifting. When kids are under 13; it’s very alarming. Michael didn’t pick up a weight until after his 2nd Olympics. Parents and coaches need to understand it’s all about development, not specialization,” said Bob Bowman. Michael Phelps, you see, played lacrosse as a younger; he didn’t just swim. Tim Duncan didn’t pick up a basketball to play competitively until a hurricane destroyed his swimming pool; Duncan was a competitive swimmer in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Michael Jordan played baseball; he didn’t only play basketball.

But Don’t Showcase Participation in Multiple Sports in College Admissions

Now don’t get us wrong. In the world of highly selective college admissions, competing in sports can only help if the student is getting recruited for any sport. If the student isn’t on the radar of a college coach, that sport isn’t going to help his or her case for admission but rather only serve to present that student as well-rounded (a detriment in elite college admissions). So in the world of college admissions, it’s all about speciality. Bowman’s point does not contradict this line of thinking. Rather, he makes the argument that earlier on in a young person’s development, it’s ok to play multiple sports before specializing in one. But just because one plays multiple sports growing up doesn’t mean any of this should be showcased in college applications. What one does before high school simply isn’t relevant from a college admissions standpoint.

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