Long Live the 3-Sport Athlete

These days it seems as though the ideal of the 3-sport athlete has given way to specialization and the rise of travel and “select” teams. It’s fair to say that I’m not a big fan of this trend.  And I’m not alone.  Take Dom Starsia, men’s lacrosse coach at U. Virginia, for example.  (To offer some context, lax fans might say that Coach Starsia is to lacrosse what, say, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is to college hoops.)  These excerpts from a recent interview, reflect his take on this issue:

I have a consistent message for the young men, ages 9 to 19, who attend our camps and/or sit in my office to consider the possibilities of an opportunity at the University of Virginia. I always ask a young lacrosse player, “How do you practice team offense or team defense in the off-season in our sport?” The answer: by playing football, soccer, hockey and, maybe especially, basketball.

I “wince” when a young man tells me he is giving up football or basketball to “concentrate” in lacrosse (or any other sport). You simply cannot do enough by yourself in the off-season to outweigh the benefits of going to football practice every day, or hockey, etc. You can work on your stick before football practice, if you like. You can certainly find your way to the weight room in your spare time and on weekends. But, coming to understand the flow of a game, anticipating the movements of your teammates and opponents, developing the ability and willingness to talk and help a teammate and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure, learning to deal with success and disappointment….these are the most valuable of skills in a team sport and, like any other skill, they need to be practiced and reinforced every day.

Starsia also appears to be challenging what I would call the “self-centeredness” of so many of today’s elite high school athletes:

If you are truly a candidate for the University of Virginia, then you are likely one of the top athletes at your school. They need you on those other teams. At the same time, we are looking for young men who love to compete, who simply cannot bear to stand by and watch the football and/or soccer teams play without them. And there is no way to improve your athleticism–and to become a better athlete–than by competing as a part of a team, every season…. all of our coaches here at Virginia — football, soccer, basketball etc. — strongly believe this and urge their recruits to compete in as many different sports as they can.”

Count me among the UVa believers.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld