Prep Sports

Multisport athletes blossom in college - and in NFL Draft

Ogden column: Variety can add spice to your athletic life

Northern Iowa head football coach Mark Farley speaks to attendees during the Panther Caravan at the Marriott in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa head football coach Mark Farley speaks to attendees during the Panther Caravan at the Marriott in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but it remains a perplexing topic.

Specialization in sports at a young age is a bad idea.

Study after study shows the benefits of participating in as many activities as possible when you first are testing the sporting waters. Even high school athletes who participate in multiple sports do better and, according to a new study from the Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, stay healthier. Those who participate in a single sport were “twice as likely to report previously sustaining a lower-extremity injury while participating in sports (46 percent) than athletes who did not specialize (24 percent),” according the report. “In addition, specialized athletes sustained 60 percent more new lower-extremity injuries during the study than athletes who did not specialize.”

The study was funded by the National Federation of State High School Associations, so maybe you don’t trust the results or the words of NFHS executive director Bob Gardner.

“While we have long believed that sport specialization by high school athletes leads to an increased risk of overuse injury, this study confirms those beliefs about the potential risks of sport specialization,” he said in a release from the NFHS.

Want more?

Tracking Football has been studying the NFL Draft since 2008, tracking how many picks were multisport athletes.

In 2017, 98 of the 107 players who heard their names called in the first three rounds played at least one other sport in high school. That’s 92 percent. Of all the draft picks that year, 88 percent were multisport athletes.

In this year’s draft, 29 of the 32 first-round picks played multiple sports in high school, including eight of the first 10. Here are some more numbers to digest — 22 of the 32 participated in track and field, 17 played basketball and four were baseball players, including top pick Baker Mayfield. Former Penn State running back Saquon Barkely ran track and played baseball. Mike McGlinchey, an offensive tackle picked ninth by the San Francisco 49ers, played lacrosse (as well as track and field and baseball).

Don’t trust the numbers? How about a football coach.

Mark Farley just completed his 17th season as UNI’s head coach. He also was an assistant for the Panthers from 1986 through 1997. Before that, he started three straight seasons as a linebacker at UNI. Before that, he was a multisport athlete at Waukon High School, competing in football, basketball and baseball.

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“I still believe in the multisport athlete,” Farley said during a stop in Cedar Rapids on Monday for the Panther Caravan. “That’s the best way to go.

“It’s how we grew up.”

Farley got on the subject after talking about how big college football has become, how recruiting and the athlete teams recruit has changed.

His thoughts about those athletes, however, hasn’t changed.

“I still believe that’s the strength of an Iowa athlete,” said a man who knows Iowa high school athletes as well as anyone. “When we do get them and they focus on one sport, they really blossom.”

Variety really is the spice of life — especially for the young athletes.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette

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