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Multisport Athletics vs. Specialization: An Opinion

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Multisport Athletics vs. Specialization: An Opinion

Mulit-sport athlete Margaret Saunders

Mulit-sport athlete Margaret Saunders

Pann Boonbaichaiyapruck

Mulit-sport athlete Margaret Saunders

Pann Boonbaichaiyapruck

Pann Boonbaichaiyapruck

Mulit-sport athlete Margaret Saunders

Wes Gordon, Campus News Reporter

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Multisport athletics is woven into the fabric of the prep school education and has been a common practice for decades.  Multisport participation has been so strong at Kent that the athletics department has “never had to cancel a season because of lack of participation in the past 20 years,” according to athletic director Todd Marble. But this might change as athletes around the globe compete for highly sought after spots at Division 1 and 3 colleges and universities. I talked to four people at the forefront of this issue to get a new perspective.

As Director of Admissions and Assistant Head of Enrollment at Kent, Sarah Ross has a huge influence on the athletic culture of the school.  First and foremost, Mrs. Ross and the admissions staff “look at academic strength – not everyone is able to handle the rigor of a Kent School education.”  In terms of extracurricular activities, Mrs. Ross said, “We give the most weight to whether or not an applicant will take advantage of the opportunities we have to offer – life here is about immersion.”  Mrs. Ross explains more specifically: “Traditionally we were looking for kids who were interested in playing three sports. We have expanded to include dance and engineering” as well. But she acknowledges that admissions gives weight to “athletes who can have a huge impact on a team,” regardless of multisport participation.

From a college perspective, Mrs. Ross noted that recruited athletes are a small portion of the student population. Despite this, Mrs. Ross, in her 10 years with the school, has noticed “a trend” towards specialization.  She conceded that this might not be a bad thing in terms of admission to selective colleges and universities: “25 years ago, being a tri-varsity athlete was definitely a bigger hook.”  Yet Mrs. Ross still thinks that being a multisport athlete is an important part of the Kent experience: “People often seek out boarding school to explore different and new things [while] benefitting from the ability to do multiple activities with less travel and stress.”  As an athlete who had to travel 2 hours each day to pursue my sport before coming to Kent, I could relate to the sentiment.

I decided to interview Kent’s athletic director Mr. Marble to better understand his strong preference for multisport participation.  He started by saying that it was the school of thought in the Founder’s League: “The heads continuously advocate for multisport athletics.” He reasoned that in addition to the need to explore, “no one in the medical field supports the notion that it is healthy or even beneficial to adolescent development to specialize. When your body is developing, if you are only doing one particular type of exercise you are prone to injury and burnout.”  While there is validity to the idea that specializing can lead to imbalances, this problem can be diminished with appropriate stretching, strengthening, and sometimes, cross training. Mr. Marble states, “I want what’s best down the line for Kent’s students. Our society has a problem with obesity, but this is a remarkably small issue here. Our problem is generally the well-being of kids who specialize.”

Mr. Marble also underscored that he believes athletics is a crucial part of a Kent School education. He stated that his primary concern as athletic director is to create a “foundation of sound physical and mental fitness” with the goal of having Kent alumni living healthy lives after prep school.

I talked to tri-varsity athlete Margaret Saunders ’16 to better understand how she has found success in her primary sport of rowing in addition to cross country and swimming. Saunders said that playing two other sports, “gives myself a mental break from the stress of rowing. It helped me focus a lot more when the season came around.” Saunders also said that playing three sports was also beneficial to her college process: “Most coaches liked the 3-sport thing because it shows that I still have a lot of room to improve once I focus solely on rowing.” She was in part able to excel in rowing by capitalizing on her summers to make up for lost progress during the year while running cross country and swimming. In rowing, there are several indicators of potential including height, and at 6’ 2” Saunders would be a highly sought after recruit before other stats even came into play.

To get a one-sport athlete’s perspective, I spoke with John LePino ‘17 about specializing in his sport. LePino has been running since seventh grade and has been a superstar on Kent’s varsity cross country team. In his first three years, he has earned a silver medal at Founder’s, won New England’s, and shattered several course records, including Kent’s by 20 seconds.  LePino started focusing exclusively on cross country during his sophomore year and says, “If I did not train year round, I would not be on the next level of performance. I wouldn’t have won a New England Championships or set any course records.” LePino cross trains or takes off one or two days a month and says that nothing has buffered his love for running.  He says that he would have been “a slightly above average” runner if he only trained for running one season of the year. LePino says that he has never suffered a running related injury and has never seen his choice to specialize affect his health. He plans to run in college and will not let anything stand in the way of his goals. He says, “If you have found your passion in life, you have to pursue it.”

Even Mr. Marble, who is strongly against specialization, admits, “If all I wanted to do was win championships, I would specialize.” While it depends on the level you want to pursue your sport – and playing sports purely for recreation is a worthwhile pursuit –  for those students who want to be at the top of their varsity team and successfully pursue their sport at the Division 1 level, the decision to specialize brings them a step closer.

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Multisport Athletics vs. Specialization: An Opinion