MHSAA forming task force

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Single-sport athletes are not uncommon in high school, but a growing concern about the risks for specializing in a single sport has caught the attention of the Michigan High School Athletic Association and other associations throughout the United States.

There are more than 40 national and international sports organizations which have joined together for “Project Play,” which advocates the “multi-sport experience as the safer, healthier and happier sports participation journey,” according to the MHSAA.

“The risks of over-specialization in sports — that is, a focus too early and too intense on a single sport — are greater than all other youth sports health risks combined,” SAA Executive Director John E. ‘Jack’ Roberts added. “They need at least as much attention as we’ve brought to reducing the risks of heat stroke, cardiac episodes and concussions.”

The MHSAA is creating a task force to look into the health risks for athletes who begin specializing in a single sport at an early age.

The task force will develop strategies and tactics for the MHSAA and its member schools to give to coaches, athletes and parents. The information provided by the MHSAA will demonstrate the limited rewards for the high risk that focusing on a single sport have for their children.

The MHSAA is expected to launch its campaign in January of next year.

“For years it seemed educators were alone in promoting the multi-sport experience as the best for young people,” Roberts said. “Rather suddenly, these voices have been joined by high-profile coaches and athletes and supported by a growing body of research.

“Major college football coaches, members of the USA Women’s World Cup Soccer championship team, Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, PGA golfer Jordan Spieth and others demonstrate to us that the multi-sport experience is the healthiest and happiest way to participate in youth sports.”

While the task force will be small in numbers, the MHSAA is hoping to have a big impact as it asks administrators and coaches from around the state to take part.

Area athletic directors agree.

“I am in favor of the task force as I feel that specialization of sports is having a negative effect on high school athletics,” Dowagiac Athletic Director Brent Nate said. “Specialization is limiting the number of athletes that participate in sports and limiting the overall development of athletes. In addition, one of the first questions that college coaches that are recruiting one of our athletes ask is ‘do they play any other sports’ or ‘what other sports do they play.’”

“That is one of the best programs I have seen the MHSAA undertake in many years,” Brandywine Athletic Director Vance Stratton said. “I hope that no one allows this project to fall through the cracks some how and that it becomes one of the primary concerns and focus for their organization. Young people and eager parents are an easy sell for specialization because they are looking for an advantage to be the best in their selected sport.

“Overall body strength, conditioning and movement are the keys to becoming the best athlete. Development of specialized skills for individual sports can still be developed while competing in other sports simultaneously. The athlete is using and calling on more muscle groups to do different movements, it is actually strengthening the body and reducing the chance of injury. Makes me excited to hear of this program coming.”