In recent years, high school athletics has lost a once dominant and familiar part of the family–the three sport athlete. It seems all too relatable to look on your high school’s Athletic Wall of Fame, reading the name of a stereotypical “Bobby Jones” from a previous decade who was an All-State baseball player, led the football team in tackles, but also managed to receive All-Conference honors for the basketball. If you look back on Lake Forest’s Wall of Fame, you’ll see athletes like Alan Benes (’90), a former successful professional baseball player, who was able to manage that feat. Perhaps more convenient to LFHS students would be the name Britt Myers (’07), who is not on the Lake Forest High School Athletic Hall of Fame, but is one of the last athletes to participate in three different major sports in three different athletic seasons for four years. There have been a plethora of two-sport stars, like Tommy Rees (’10) in basketball in football, Jack Traynor (’15) in basketball and football, Wesley Janeck (’15) in football and lacrosse, and most recently Liam Pooler (’17) in football and in track. Rarely, however, do you see an athlete in this day and age take on the three sport task for all four years of high school. Many younger athletes start with three sports–like sophomore Will Davis, who participates in soccer, basketball, and baseball–or continue into their junior year with three team affiliations–like Jack Van Hyfte (football, basketball, lacrosse) and Sam Yauch (football, hockey, lacrosse). But once the Varsity spotlight hits, specialization often follows quickly.
Britt Myers, the youngest son of Lake Forest Distinguished Alumnus Tommy Myers (who coached football, basketball, and baseball for many years at LFHS) graduated back in 2007 and now works as a football coach for the University of West Florida; he played football (quarterback), basketball (guard) and baseball (2nd base) all four years, starting in all three during his senior year. Why isn’t Myers’ situation more common in today’s athletics landscape?
For starters, the way kids are brought up playing youth sports has taken a 180 degree turn from when our parents were in school. Instead of everybody playing sports based around the community, kids are put on travel teams that often venture around the state and sometimes the country to compete. The most basic level of a travel team is the “feeder” team. “Feeders” allow young athletes to participate in an organization that eventually will integrate into your high school and familiarize you with the coaching staff at hand. Depending on the seasons, you could play for multiple “feeder” teams. However, it changes from being a concern of interest to a concern of commitment when you participate in a sport outside of its “designated season.” Examples of these could include: “fall ball” Baseball, indoor soccer, spring/summer basketball, etc. It may be possible to play a year-long sport in combination with other seasonal sports, but more often than not the commitment level is tarnished.
The next and highest level of club teams are the ones that are ran independently. These are the teams that travel every other weekend to a tournament/showcase outside of the usual radius. Some examples are AAU basketball, AAA hockey and academy level soccer. These teams require a commitment that is 100% specific to the sport and club you play for. It is grueling. Practices are hours away, bringing late nights and early mornings onto the table of the young athlete, leaving little room for balance in their choice of sport. However, this is the most sure route to becoming a collegiate athlete, which is what most young athletes (and their parents) are hoping for. Here is where the highest level of competition is, and where the most exposure to scouts are. In some cases, it is virtually impossible to represent your school all four years if you want to continue playing in college.
When asked why the three sport athlete has become so rare, Myers’ understanding of the decrease in 3-sport athlete is due to specialization.
“Specialization. Simply put, most parents tend to think their child is going to be the one who goes onto the professional level. This is stressed to parents by every travel coach for different motives. For instance, I was told by a travel coach in 4th grade that I would be a professional soccer player if I quit my other 3 sports and focused on soccer… That being said, I do think that there can be some value for some to focus hard on one sport. You get extra repetitions, which will help as you try to master your craft. However, not every high school student-athlete is going to the pros or even college for that matter, and yet one coach or another has told everyone who has played sports in the last decade-plus that they need to specialize in their particular sport. This leads to instant gratification for the current team one is playing on and minimal long-term gain for most of the athletes involved.”
What it all really comes down to is how far do you want to take your out-of-school involvement in a particular sport? For Myers, representing his school and playing with the people he grew up with was always enough for him. There was no need to sacrifice a sport to play AAU or for some other club because he enjoyed all the sports he was playing, not just one specific sport that perhaps he was best at.
In response to how his overall athletics experience was affected by playing three sports his whole high school career, Myers mentioned, “My favorite part about it was that I never got sick of/burnt out on any one particular sport. When the football season ended, the basketball season started right up and the same thing for baseball after that. Summer was probably the toughest time physically and logistically because all three coaches would have their own demands for you almost every day. One of the other cool things that I always enjoyed was that each team had a different group of friends and players to compete with. All of that being said, I wouldn’t trade my three-sport high school athletics experience for anything (well, maybe a few more wins in each sport).”
In addition to that, Myers articulated that focusing on one sport leads you to become more susceptible to injury. He emphasizes, “Doing the same movements consistently can put a stress on the body if it is not supplemented by other exercise/strength building (see: rise in Tommy John surgeries for MLB pitchers who have pitched year round since they were 9 years old). The other major positive is that when you play three sports, you are always competing. There is something to be said for student-athletes learning how to lead and work in different scenarios which multiple sports can create. Random note, I believe it was 30 out of 32 NFL players drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft played multiple sports in high school. Elite athletes who didn’t need to specialize to get to the level they got to.”
There is no point to playing a sport if there is no passion. Once that combination of drive and enjoyment in the game is lost, that is when you become burnt out. It is possible to be a three sport athlete, but from in the ever changing modern world of athletics, it is certainly less known. Three sport mainstays like Britt Myers have become exceptions to “specialization” and he wanted to share his advice for any young Scout with a future in sports.
“Play as many sports as they can for as long as you enjoy them and are good enough to compete at that specific level. Once you lose the passion for it or fall behind talent-wise, don’t force it. But if you are good enough, then balance the time demands as best you can and keep competing. The good coaches will want their best players to play. I was fortunate enough to be able to play baseball, football and basketball for 4 years of high school because I enjoyed all three, was good enough to warrant it and my coaches knew I wasn’t missing a preseason workout because I was just sitting around doing nothing.”
As the names of 3-sport stars at LFHS become increasingly harder to remember, it is important to be aware that it is not the fault of the athletes themselves, but rather the athletic landscape that millennials are being raised under. Learning to compete has been sacrificed for a desire to be the best, which, ultimately, could be affecting the makeup of the individual athletes who do move on to the next level of competition.