In Play with Tom Markowski

In an era of specialization many athletes say playing multiple sports produces the best results

Baseball   | Tom Markowski

In an era of specialization many athletes say playing multiple sports produces the best results

As a skinny 14-year-old Collin Goslin had no reservations about trying his luck at different sports at Dearborn Divine Child. His freshman year he competed baseball, basketball and football all at the varsity level.

Earlier in his life his parents encouraged him to play as many sports as he could decide for himself which was best for him. In addition to the aforementioned, Goslin also ran track and play golf in grade school. Back then football was tops on his list. That would soon change but that didn’t stop him from playing football. Eventually baseball would win over but Goslin’s decision to play baseball in college didn’t put an end to his football career.

“I mean, football was my favorite sport growing up,” he said. “Then my freshman year I started throwing harder and I started to grow, and I began lifting weights.”

Goslin continued to gain speed on his fast ball. He threw in the mid-80s then. Last summer Goslin’s fastball reached 90 mph. At 6-foot-2, he’s grown two inches since his freshman year and at 215 he weighs 35 pounds more. Goslin started at quarterback his first three seasons and a number of positions this past season.

Baseball, however, won out as Goslin signed to play baseball for Michigan State last November.

Even though Goslin knew he’d play baseball in college long before he signed he wasn’t going to quit football. In an era of specialization with more and more high school athletes choosing to concentrate on one sport Goslin remained loyal to himself and his school by playing football.

Some athletes say playing multiple sports helps prevent burnout. They claim they are helped mentally by competing in two or more. Others say that to be your best one must hone in on one sport and continue to improve by working at that one sport day after day.

“(Specialization) is becoming addictive,” he said. “I know a few guys who like to play one sport. It’s tough to play a sport like baseball all year around here.

“I play with guys from the south during the summer and they play year round. There’s no way I’d do that. Playing football and being around my friends, I wanted that. Twenty years from now what are you going to remember? You’re going to remember some Friday night football game, not some doubleheader you played. There’s a lot of pressure on those guys. Scouts expect them to run a 4.4 (40-yard dash) or throw 94 (mph). One kid from the south was telling me he had to throw 94 or his life was over. He told me if his fastball dropped to 90 he could drop 10-to-15 rounds in the draft. That’s all they talk about.”

Coaches say multi-sport athletes like Goslin are becoming harder to find. Specialization in the form of personal trainers, AAU basketball, travel teams in sports like hockey, lacrosse, soccer and others has become the norm.

There are many reasons why high school athletes, especially the ones who excel, decide to play just one sport. They are being told by friends, trainers and family members that to be your best at one sport one must concentrate on that one sport and forget the rest.

For some it’s just a preference. They enjoy playing that one sport and that’s it.

Kayla Laquiere played three sports when she was a freshman at Utica Eisenhower but the last two years she’s played just one, softball.

“I stopped playing basketball after my freshman year,” Laquiere said. “And I kept playing volleyball my sophomore year. (Volleyball) was hard to give up. But I want to play (softball) in college. If I had played basketball my sophomore year, and not volleyball, I think I could have done it. We have fall tournaments with softball and that’s when the volleyball season is. During the winter (basketball season) we just do a lot of core work.”

Nevertheless Laquiere, a shortstop who signed with Dayton for softball, said playing different helped her become a better softball player.

“Playing any sport helps,” she said. “Softball is a team sport and I think volleyball is a lot like softball, more than basketball is. In basketball it’s one on one. (Playing) volleyball helped me build stamina. And there are similarities. In softball you have to dive to save a ball going through (the infield). And in volleyball you have to dive for balls.”

Back to what Laquiere said, it doesn’t matter what sports you play. All that matters is that an individual play different sports to help become a well-rounded athlete.

Connor Chaney participated in three sports his first two years at Grand Rapids Catholic Central but decided not to compete in track this spring. He started at tight end and outside linebacker last fall on the football team then competed in the 171-pound weight class in wrestling and had his best year as he made it to the regional final.

Expectations are different at a school like Catholic Central, a coeducational private school with an enrollment of about 600, than they are for student-athletes at bigger schools like East Kentwood or Rockford, for example. There is the tendency for athletes at larger schools to become specialized. A student might be good enough to contribute significantly in baseball, for example, but not good enough to make second string in football. At smaller schools the need is greater for athletes to be diverse because the number of quality athletes is not as great.

Catholic Central sponsors 28 sports including rugby making it even more difficult for coaches to maintain a high level of participation.

Chaney said he understands why some of his peers chose to specialize. It’s just not for him.

“The whole specialization thing is good,” he said. “But I’m a competitor. I couldn’t see myself playing just one sport. I’ve been doing it for so long. Besides, playing two sports opens up my options.”

His last statement sheds light on a dilemma. Chaney’s choice of the word “options” refers to his chances at competing in a sport in college and, hopefully, receiving a scholarship. It is a college scholarship that motivates student-athletes, and many time their parents, to select a course of specialization rather than play two or more sports.

Chaney, who will be a senior in the fall, chose not to participate in track so he could concentrate on gaining weight and increasing his strength to enhance his performance in the other two.

“My two sports are demanding,” he said. “They’re physical. I felt I needed to get stronger and faster. Kids are 210 pounds playing running back. I weigh 185. I need to get bigger and stronger. “

Wrestling and football go hand in hand according to Chaney. Both are physically demanding and he said each has helped him compete in the other.

“In football you are always in a stance, like wrestling,” he said. “My defensive coordinator tells me to go double leg (a wrestling maneuver) on my guy. Wrestling gives me more flexibility when I play football.”

Another junior who competes well in two sports is Alex Darden of North Farmington. Darden, who is 6-7, is one of the top pitchers in the class of 2016. He’s committed to Cincinnati. He also starts on the basketball team that won a Class A district title in March.

North Farmington boys basketball coach Todd Negoshian said Darden “doesn’t do anything with us during the summer” but that he understands. Baseball is Darden’s main sport and that he respects that. Darden’s future is with baseball but that doesn’t mean he should prepare for his college baseball career 12 months a year.

“The coach at Cincinnati told Alex to keep playing basketball,” Negoshian said. “Playing multiple sports is great for kids. It doesn’t zero in on one muscle group. Playing other sports helps you to learn how to be a role player, not a star. Alex is learning how to compete in a different mindset on the court, and with a different group. Playing basketball has helped him. Of course it helps when you’re a 6-7 lefthander that throws in the high 80s.”

Negoshian competed in just one sport (basketball) in high school but adds it was his choice. Despite this, he doesn’t agree with those who steer high school athletes to a path of specialization. He and most coaches encourage athletes to compete in more than one sport yet others are pulling the rope on the other side in ugly game of tug-of-war with a teenager’s life.

“Some of it is the parents,” he said. “Some of it isn’t. Often it’s the individual trainers who convince parents that they have to do that. Trainers are making a boat load of money (on specialization). It’s sad so many athletes are doing it now.”

Sarah White of East Kentwood, Eric Gilgenbach of Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Daniel Robinson of Grosse Pointe North and John Wager of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood are all seniors who have signed with Division I schools. Even though all four are some of the state’s top players in the sport each will play in college none could imagine playing just one in high school, and never considered specializing in one sport.

Simply, they were having too much fun playing different sports, and being good at it.

White is considered the state’s top golfer (she signed with Western Michigan) as she earned medalist honors at the Division 1 finals last fall. White placed in the top 10 individually in each of her four seasons on varsity.

She also played goalie on the ice hockey team, the boys ice hockey team. Competing at the same level with the boys never phased White. She grew up playing hockey with her brother, Brett, who’s a member of the golf team at Eastern Michigan.

“As long as you can put the time in for both, you can be good at both,” White said.

She said each sport helped her become a better player in the other.

“Golf is all about balance,” she said. “And in hockey you have to have balance. In hockey, as a goalie, you have to concentrate on one shot. In golf it’s the same way. It’s all about the next shot.”

Gilgenbach played on varsity in baseball and basketball all four years, and for a couple of years he considered playing both in college. Last November he signed with Notre Dame for baseball and is contemplating playing basketball at the intramural level.

Even though he decided during his sophomore year he would concentrate on baseball Gilgenbach wasn’t going to quit basketball.

“I played basketball year round when I was in seventh and eighth grade,” he said. “And I worked out with the varsity team the summer before high school. Right before the season I felt burned out and I didn’t want to have that happen in baseball.”

So Gilgenbach was determined to play both to stay fresh.

“Plus I didn’t want to miss out on the high school experience,” he said.

The latter is a point Wagner emphasized. An all-state selection in hockey and lacrosse, Wagner signed with Marquette for lacrosse. But he’s a heckuva hockey player and was named to State Champs’ list of top 10 candidates for the Warrior Sports player of the year award.

“I don’t think I could play one sport year round,” he said. “In college I’ll be (playing lacrosse) eight months a year. In high school there’s a place for (playing two sports). It’s something to look forward to. When there was two weeks left in the hockey season I’d look forward to lacrosse. And when lacrosse was done I’d look forward to hockey. Playing two sports has helped me build friendships I wouldn’t have had if I played one. Going to Marquette, I think the transition will be easier.”

“Some of my friends are totally different. There are a couple of guys (on the lacrosse team) who play hockey but that’s it.

 Robinson started for two seasons at quarterback for coach Frank Sumbera and is in his third season as the starting centerfielder on Sumbera’s baseball team. Before the college recruiters came to Robinson with scholarship offers in football, he signed to play baseball at Central Michigan in November.

At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Robinson is an excellent athlete who has been time under 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He has a strong arm and hits with power.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in my kids playing multiple sports,” Sumbera said. “You take football over to baseball, it helps teach a young man discipline and toughness. They go hand in hand.

“Dan has always had that type of physical presence. Dan Enos (then the head football coach at Central) came to me and said I heard you had a good athlete he should know about. But he signed for baseball before any (scholarship) offers were made.

“I have some baseball players who play just one sport, who would be good in football but decided not to. I think as many times you can be competitive in any sport can only help you in others.”