The three sport athlete: a disappearing high school trend


Every year, fewer and fewer athletes choose to play three sports.

Kaitlyn Lucey, Copy Editor

Football in the fall; wrestling in the winter; lacrosse in the spring.

It was not rare several decades ago to drift from one athletic activity to another with every passing season, but nowadays is increasingly uncommon, with most athletes preferring to specialize in one or two sports.

Popularized in the mid-twentieth century, the “three sport athlete” is an umbrella term used to describe an athlete who participates in multiple sports teams per academic year.

However, a typical high school athlete today may play only one sport for the school team, and continue to play that one sport year round for their club team.

What has caused athletes to specialize in their athletic pursuits? The answer is perhaps grounded in competition for collegiate athletic scholarships.

Due to increasing college tuitions — where top-rated universities charge upward of 40 thousand dollars per year — athletes vie for spots on Division I university teams where they can receive money to attend and play for the school.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Division I schools “manage the largest athletics budgets and offer the most generous number of scholarships.” If a student-athlete specializes by focusing their time and energy into training for one sport year round, in the hope of being recruited and ultimately gaining an athletic scholarship, they have a better chance when competing with similar athletes on the national level.

However, this increase in popularity towards specialization can have a detrimental effect. According to Dr. Edward M. Wojtys, of Sports Health Magazine, sports specialization from an early age can lead to disinterest from societal stigmas of achievement.

“The slow developers of skill or physique are often left behind because they don’t make the grade,” Dr. Wojyts said. “… Common tendencies [to push] the gifted and [diminish] the opportunities for those with poorer skills can take the fun out of sports, especially when it happens at a young age.”

Although specialization at too early an age can have negative effects, it also has its benefits.

Athletes can find stability when playing on one sports team, develop lifelong friendships with their teammates and even boost their confidence on and off the field.

“The friendships that I have made on this team [the Chiefettes] are ones that will definitely last for a long time,” junior Kellyann McClenahan said, “even when the seniors graduate.”

The decline of the three sport athlete may also have something to do with the prolonged pursuit of athletic gender equality.

Passed in 1972, Title IX is a national law that “requires gender equality for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding,” according to its website. From the time it was passed to now, athletic opportunities for women have grown exponentially.

“I feel that over time, girls have gotten much more opportunity when it comes to high school sports,” senior Devin McQuillan said. “First we were able to go to school, and now I feel like there’s no limitations to what we can do, really.”

However, since the law calls for equality, a stretched budget can result in more cuts of collegiate athletic teams — both intercollegiate and intramural.

Therefore, less students are able to diversify their athletic experience, as budget cuts can restrict athletes from pursuing multiple sports during the year or season.

During the decline of the “three sport athlete,” athletics has certainly shifted towards specialization and gender equality. While this decline has its disadvantages, athletics as a whole has since improved.

As a result of the prolonged effort of athletic supporters everywhere, more athletes, both male and female, are participating in athletics on every level. Indeed, athletes from around the country are encouraged to “play on.”

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