We are reading more and more articles featuring expert opinions about the value of players diversifying their athletic efforts. In recent years, doctors, psychologists, athletic trainers and many others are beating the drum about how important it is for players to participate in different sports throughout their careers, particularly when they are very young.
Not too long ago I read a book called, “Talent is Overrated” and came away from that experience thinking that anyone can become very good at the game of fastpitch softball if they only dedicated themselves to training, a lot! How much is “a lot” you ask, well they argue that you need to focus your practice on a skill for 10,000 repetitions to master that skill and make it a habit. A LOT!
Well here we are a few years later and I am reading a new book titled, “Range” by David Epstein where he argues that specialization is overrated and that people who have a wide variety of experiences are likely to ultimately end up way ahead of the specializers.
in his forward, Epstein raises a very interesting discussion about a couple of very famous athletes.
First off we have an athlete who was given a custom made golf club when he was a toddler. He watched hours of golf videos and his father hitting golf balls into a net in the garage before he could even sit up on his own. He later became world-famous when he showed up on television as a two-year-old doing golf trick shots. He won his first tournament, at age 4, against 10-year-olds. We all know the story of Tiger Woods who was raised by his father from birth to become the greatest golfer in the world.
Consider another athlete whose mother was a tennis instructor. But she decided that her son should experience all the sports he could as a youngster. He played soccer, golf, basketball, squash, tennis and just about every other sport you can imagine. Mom said he was a terror when he wasn’t active, so she kept him involved with as many things as she could find. He didn’t get serious about tennis until his late teens and quickly became a ranked junior player.
Roger Federer became one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport and would probably be thought of as clearly the best ever except that he has a couple other all-time greats competing in the same era.
On one hand, you have Tiger, whose whole life was dedicated to becoming the best golfer on the planet. And he did. On the other you have one of the greatest tennis players of all time, who spent his formative years playing a wide variety of sports and got serious about tennis at what we would now consider to be an ancient age. No one can argue that Federer is one of the greatest tennis players of all time and if not Tiger’s equal, certainly in the same neighborhood.
What’s the moral to the story? Who would you rather be?
Consider that Tiger has spent plenty of recent time hobbled by injury and he appears to be fighting like crazy to remain at the top of the golf pyramid. Meanwhile, Federer is clearly still at the top of the tennis world, defying age and logic by still competing for every major championship he enters.
Obviously, we would all love to accomplish what either of these greats have accomplished. Tiger was an amazing champion who still appears to have the chance to win, but I have to think his injuries and the pain he has suffered are a direct result of the total commitment he made to just one sport.
My choice? Roger who was the multi-sport athlete who appears to still be going strong in better health and has become the poster child for the multi-sport athlete.
About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.