Over the past decade we've seen far fewer top athletes attempt to play more than one sport in high school. And some of those who did so early frequently quit their non-basketball sport as they mature. Guys like Caleb Swanigan and Luke Kennard from this senior class both excelled in football, for example.
The age of specialization is upon us, and there's no denying that multi-sport athletes can face a disadvantage compared against their specializing peers. Along with that, however, some doctors and trainers believe that young athletes harm themselves by training for only one sport, and that the absence of diversity leads to severe injury risk as well as an increased chance of stress-fracture issues. There's also a risk of mental burnout.
Do you think the trend toward specialization is healthy for young players and for the game, given the net advantages and disadvantages?
Brian Snow: Clearly my BA in Mass Communications doesn't give me the expertise to comment on the wear and tear on a young athlete's joints by playing one sport instead of many sports, and I think burnout depends on the kid and can't just be handled in a blanket statement. Crazy parenting is more likely to lead to burnout than the sport itself, because usually the kids like the sport they just don't like being pushed to a certain level to have to like everything about the sport by parents who are living through their children.
With that said, I think the major issue right now is kids play less games, far less, of basketball than they ever have. I know the mainstream media would have you believe otherwise, but quite simply it isn't close. Basketball players used to play 2-on-2, 3-on-3, etc. at the park for hours and hours. Now they only play if it is 5-on-5, there are uniforms, referees and air conditioning. What this has led to is a lack of ability to play and think the game.
Kids today are doing more individual skill work than ever before with 1-on-1 trainers and individual workout guys. Now one can argue if those trainers are actually qualified, but the bottom line is they do more skill work than ever before. However, you don't develop feel and understanding for the game in a two hour training session, and that is what the biggest issue is for the game of basketball in this country. We have developed a generation of kids that are robots as opposed to basketball players.
Evan Daniels: It's our job to rank/evaluate the top high school basketball prospects in the country. While playing more than one sport may help in some areas, a singular focus on improving your basketball game is only going to help you become a better basketball player.
Players that take months off from the court to play football are losing valuable time that they could then be working on improving their ball skills, jump shot, etc. So as far as is it better for basketball players, specifically, I tend towards thinking a player spending more time in one sport gives them a chance at becoming a better player at that particular sport.
Josh Gershon: While I appreciate the approach of the last generation and think that all the sports kids played helped them in basketball — football with toughness, baseball with hand/eye coordination, those who played soccer with footwork, etc. — but the bottom line is the best way to improve at basketball is actually playing basketball.
The fact that kids aren't wasting their time playing sports that aren't in their future and working on parts of their game that will lead to their ultimate success has to be considered a net positive.
Rob Harrington: Basketball is a contact, rather than a collision sport, and for that reason muscle memory and imbalanced training don't concern me as much. We see a lot of injuries, but most of them are of the sudden, acute variety. Basketball is a game you play with your whole body; I can see more of an issue with basketball pitchers or football quarterbacks. Hoopsters really shouldn’t have problems with their joints.
Moreover, I've observed numerous instances over the years of an athlete playing football, in particular, and gaining so much muscle mass that he loses quickness and flexibility. That can be devastating to a basketball player, and for that reason the football/basketball combination has become rare. If a player wanted to spend his fall playing soccer just to cleanse the palate, so to speak, that probably would be okay and wouldn't harm him physically.
But football is a bad fit for aspiring basketball players, and the gridiron guys probably would tell you the same thing going in the other direction.
The burnout issue is more complex and has to be evaluated player to player. Some kids are consumed by the game, while others' parents are consumed for them. But that's not really a specialization problem per se.
Evan Daniels, Brian Snow, Josh Gershon and Rob Harrington contributed to this report