Multi-Sport vs. Lacrosse-Only Debate
We all know how much more important the summer is to a lacrosse recruit than it was 10 years ago. If you want to get recruited, most players think they need to be on the road all of June and July. November has become an important recruiting month as well (pg. 120), and more indoor/box leagues are sprouting up to keep kids playing throughout the winter. By John Jiloty @ InsideLacrosse.com
If you’re caught in the recruiting vortex, it’s harder than ever to play other sports. And with recruiting getting earlier and earlier, young athletes have less time to figure out what sport they’re best at by experimenting with more than one. Plus, more time after giving that verbal commitment to coast through to college.
College coaches have always said they overwhelmingly prefer multi-sport athletes to lacrosse-only recruits. But it’s been a while since I’ve talked with anyone directly about this, and after a brief Twitter debate in mid-August that saw Baum chime in to staunchly defend his lacrosse-only background, I wanted to dig deeper.
I emailed 43 DI men’s coaches on a Thursday morning in mid-August, the only time these guys have to actually take vacation. Within 24 hours, 29 had responded. All of them said they prefer multi-sport athletes. The terms “without a doubt”, “no question”, “hands down” and “no brainer” were used eight times, along with a total of 19 exclamation points.
The most common reason was development; a multi-sport athlete is easier to develop and has a higher ceiling in college because he’s had a diverse background — both athletically in movement and training and experientially in coaching and competition. Cover boy Scott Ratliff (pg. 86) grew up outside Atlanta and, while he only played football his senior year at Walton High, he credits that experience for the leadership role he took over in Loyola’s 2012 championship run.
A few coaches mentioned how they like watching recruits play other sports to get a better feel for their athletic ability and upside. “Playing in other sports may reveal athletic skills that aren’t as easily revealed playing lacrosse,” says Jacksonville’s Guy Van Arsdale.
A big difference is discipline. When a recruit tells Denver’s Bill Tierney he’s dropping an off-season sport, the Hall of Famer asks for a daily plan for what he’ll be doing in lieu of structured practices and workouts. In theory, playing wallball and working with a personal trainer might be a good idea (Colgate’s Mike Murphy says he hopes his multi-sport recruits don’t let their lacrosse skills fall off), but most college coaches still prefer an actual sport. “If you’re not playing another sport, you better tell me what you’re doing with your time,” says Tierney.
One knock on lacrosse-only athletes is the higher likelihood for burnout. If all you’re playing your whole career is lacrosse, by the time you get to college and it becomes an even bigger part of your life, there’s a much better chance your interest is going to wane. Conversely, if you’ve always been playing two or three sports and now you’re in college and can focus on just lacrosse, you have much more potential to get dramatically better.
The problem is that early recruiting influences players to drop other sports once they commit to a college lacrosse program. If you’re a sophomore and you locked up your ACC commitment in the summer, why risk blowing out your knee playing football?
The great Jim Brown, who played four sports at Syracuse and is in the NFL and U.S. Lacrosse Halls of Fame, has a good answer to that.
“You overcome the difficulty of it and get the reward and satisfaction of being successful because it was a difficult task,” he told me last year when I asked him about running from a track meet to his last lacrosse game at Syracuse. “To me that’s a no-brainer.”
Tierney and Loyola’s Charley Toomey both mention the importance of building diverse rosters, and recruiting good kids. “Like everything in sports, a good mix is the best mix,” Tierney says, “but you usually win with good people.”
Harvard’s Chris Wojcik, a two-sport captain and All-Ivy soccer/lacrosse player at Harvard, said it best: “You’re only in high school once, so have fun.”
Enjoy the fall. We skip November to crank our Face-Off Yearbook; our December issue mails Nov. 14.
On Aug. 23 around 9:30 a.m., I emailed 47 DI coaches asking their preference in recruits: multi-sport or lacrosse-only? Many responded with just “multi-sport”, but some wrote out longer answers. So I thought it would be beneficial to pull out some of the interesting responses. Thanks to all the coaches who got back to me.
“There should be no debate here! Multi-sport athletes win on this! Sooo many things you learn/experience playing multiple sports that just lacrosse year round cannot provide.”
—Mike Pressler, Bryant
“No brainer for us … multi-sport athletes have better potential for growth in college.”
—Charley Toomey, Loyola
“This is always an interesting question. I am strongly on pro multi-sport athlete. Ironically as the game and talent get stronger every year we find more parity on our schedules … everyone is getting better as a result of the game growing so much.
I feel the intangibles now separate the best players. The work ethic, the self discipline and overall athletic ability separate the best from the rest!
It is hard to replicate the level of intensity that comes along with high/ prep school sports. The notion of representing your school. The pressure and competition of game days, whether it be football, hockey, basketball, etc, is an invaluable tool for development of young athletes.
Playing multiple sports allows for an athlete to transition, adjust and adapt to a diverse athletic landscape.
It is unfortunate they the day of the three-sport HS athlete is nearly gone. It us all about finding the best athletes for us!”
—Eric Fekete, Quinnipiac
“Multi-sports! Being competitive year-round and developing the skillsets needed for various sports, I feel makes for a more complete lacrosse player.”
—Shawn Nadelen, Towson
“Much rather see the kids be multi-sport athletes; other sports such as basketball help them develop their lacrosse skills.”
—Tom Gravante, Mt. St. Mary’s
“I’d much rather see a recruit playing multiple sports. I actually enjoying watching them play those other sports to see what kind of overall athlete they are.”
—Matt Poskay, Wagner
“I would prefer guys play mutliple sports, but I think Pete Baum tweeted an interesting response. What if you are a kid from the West Coast or a non-traditional area who needs to focus more on making yourself better for the known lacrosse opportunity?
His response makes you think, what is playing football in your senior year going to do for you if you are going to stop playing football after your senior year and you should focus on improving your lacrosse skills or get stronger etc.?
I love the fact that as I welcome my incoming class it is made up of former HS QBs, soccer players and hockey players; but the landscape is changing so as you wrote in your recruiting article, we need to make sure that we are changing for the better as well.
I love the fact that my guys play multiple sports in high school, but there is a part of me that hopes they are not letting their skills lack.
I guess the best answer for me at Colgate, I would like to see my guys come in ready to play at a high level.”
—Mike Murphy, Colgate
“Multiple sports! Hockey, basketball and football are my top three other sports.”
—Scott Marr, Albany
“There are so many sports that have skills that directly and indirectly translate to Lacrosse. Football, soccer, basketball and other sports have things that players can bring with them to the Lacrosse field. Too often I see young players who devote 100% of their time to lacrosse getting burned out. Even most Canadian players also play hockey. I think multi-sport wins in my book.”
—Matt Holtz, Detroit-Mercy
“Multi sport guys hands down!!!! Greater upside when they get to us.”
—Joe Alberici, Army
“Multiple sports every time. It cultivated competitive spirit more than anything else!”
—Andy Towers, Dartmouth
“I feel a very strong affinity to those that are multi-sport athletes. I especially like basketball and other contact sports. I like the idea of an athlete competing throughout the year in meaningful contests. The more an athlete is in competitive situations testing himself, the better lacrosse competitor he will become. Playing in other sports may reveal athletic skills that are not as easily revealed playing lacrosse.”
—Guy Van Arsdale, Jacksonville
“I prefer multi-sport athletes, but I don't hold it against a kid either way. While playing lacrosse all year round develops better stick skills and possibly better lacrosse IQ, there are a number of complementary skills that an athlete develops in other sports to make him a better lacrosse player:
Soccer: balance, conditioning
Football: toughness, contact, aggressive play, balance
Basketball: possibly the sport with the most analogous skills to lacrosse: off-ball movement, spacing on offense, 2-man games. Help defense, defending the middle, etc.
Other sports help as well, but regardless of the sport, if you are a multiple-sport athlete you are competing more often, and you are in more pressure-filled situations (i.e. executing in end-of-game situations). You're also only in high school once, so have fun.”
—Chris Wojcik, Harvard
“Almost to a fault, I lose interest in prospects who focus solely on lacrosse in high school. I want young men who love competition, proudly wearing the uniform with their school name across the chest throughout the year and not just in the spring.”
—Lars Tiffany, Brown
“Without question…. MULTI-SPORT !!!! Less guys getting burned out and a great opportunity to learn different athletic and life skills from different coaches and teammates who display a variety of expectations and motivational styles.”
—Brian Anken, VMI
“We always prefer our recruits to play multiple sports. We feel that they get more out of the opportunity of being in a competitive atmosphere with a team, team concepts, training and the mental preparation for a game along with daily practices. A lot of sports have terrific crossover benefits for lacrosse. Plus it is difficult to maintain a competitive edge as well as physical training edge out of season if an athlete is only playing lacrosse (on a high school level). Also most players are still working on lacrosse during the season they are involved with another sport.”
—Bob Shillinglaw, Delaware
“Multiple sports! Part of all this early recruiting and fall/winter stuff is that we now are seemingly forcing kids’ hands to give up other sports earlier. It's flat-out wrong.
—Chris Bates, Princeton
“My preference would always be to have kids be multi-sport athletes. We still look for football, hockey and basketball players. They have experienced sacrifice, teamwork, different coaching styles, made different friendships, pushed their bodies to different limits, experienced the joy of victory and disappointment of defeat, and I believe, appreciate lacrosse a lot more. When a boy tells me he ‘quit football, soccer, hockey, basketball, this year’ I always ask him what he will do with his spare time. If he is a recruit of ours, I tell him to send us a daily plan for what he is doing when he would’ve been in that practice. Usually (not always, thank God) they start to realize how much time they waste. Being alone, working on your stick is boring and takes a very special young man to have the perseverance to do that for weeks and months at a time. X-Box is a lot easier and a lot more fun!
Finally, on the other hand, we are recruiting kids who play lacrosse all spring, summer, and fall (and probably some winter too). We are making final decisions on sophomores in high school whose voices haven’t changed yet, so what message are we sending? SPECIALIZE!
Quite a dilemma, but the teams that end up winning the battles are the ones who recruit the best KIDS. Some specialize, some commit early, some play three sports, some commit late. Like everything in sports, a good mix is the best mix, but you usually win with good people.
So, the final answer to your question is: Who Knows? Ask someone smarter than me, they shouldn’t be hard to find.”
—Bill Tierney, Denver