It was a tremendous honor on Dec. 3 to induct the largest, most impressive Hall of Fame class in NJSIAA history. This stellar, 16-member group entering the NJSIAA Gallagher/Bollinger Hall of Fame includes an Olympic Gold Medalist, a Heisman Trophy winner, a Cy Young Award winner, a NCAA champion, and multiple record-setting athletes.

Of our inductees for 2018, nearly all played multiple sports in high school, and the same is true for the significant majority of all our Hall of Fame members. It’s also notable that many of this year’s inductees have maintained their excellence into their professional lives by embarking on executive careers in such fields as marketing, finance, education, corporate leadership and broadcasting. 

Playing multiple sports, under different coaches and different sets of rules and discipline, helped get them there. 

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Because many high school athletes--often along with their parents--dream of success, and perhaps a college scholarship, we’re seeing an increasing number of young people specializing in particular sports at earlier and earlier ages. According to one study, a majority of youth athletes (68 percent) believe specializing will increase their chances of making a college team. Even more concerning, 82 percent of youth athletes believe specialization is necessary simply to make their high school’s team. 

The reality, of course, is that those beliefs are misguided. And not only that, those young athletes and their families are missing out on a bigger picture. 

High school sports serve as a great preparation for adult life. Competing is full of character-building experiences that can prove invaluable later on. It’s only natural that many hiring professionals will ask job applicants if they played sports while growing up. And the more sports you play, the more chances you have to learn those lessons. 

What kind of lessons can you learn from being a multi-sport athlete? 

Playing for multiple coaches exposes athletes to different manners of teaching and different management styles. Responding to coaching from multiple voices offers athletes a chance to not just learn more about others, but to also learn more about themselves.

Playing multiple sports also exposes athletes to different sets of rules, different forms of strategy and thinking. It can not only work and develop different physical parts of your body, but different parts of your mind as well.  As far as physical development, playing multiple sports helps student-athletes develop different groups of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, while gaining a variety of skill sets. Multiple sports also enhance hand-eye coordination, balance, endurance, explosiveness and overall agility. 

There are also many subtle lessons that high school sports teach a young athlete. Responsibilities and lessons like showing up on time, sacrificing for the greater good of the team, dealing with adversity and defeat, and even a bad call or constructive criticism from a coach, are things that build character in ways that extend well beyond the playing field. Participating in multiple sports can only expand those lessons.

Playing multiple sports also carries with it a social component. Above anything else, competing as a high school athlete should be a fun and enjoyable experience. High school athletics creates bonds, friendships and memories that can last a lifetime. Playing multiple sports creates more of those lasting moments. 

There are many studies that stress the value of competing in multiple sports. Athletes do better academically while competing and they stay healthier as well. Other, more basic, examples exist, such as the fact that in the 2018 NFL draft, 29 of the 32 players picked in the first round played more than one sport in high school. Or that a survey of athletes in 2014 by the United States Olympic Committee found that most participated in multiple sports when they were younger.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), in 2017-18, participation in high school sports increased for the 29th straight year and reached an all-time high of 7,980,886 athletes. Sadly, however, the number of multi-sport athletes seems to be declining. 

About 90 percent of New Jersey’s nearly 300,000 student-athletes won’t take the field after high school, so playing multiple sports may simply be another pathway to friends and fun. And for those who do take the next step to collegiate competition, competing in multiple sports can leave them better prepared. 

What remains is a basic fact. Regardless of whether you are simply a supportive team player or future NFL draft choice, there’s no questioning that exposure to multiple sports, with all of the lessons, friendships and memories they afford, can enhance the overall high school experience, and also leave young people better prepared for adulthood.