Why I Decided Against Specialization

Editor’s Note:

Day after day, we hear questions from parents who are worried about helping their children choose the best path. They’re deciding between focusing on one sport–specialization– or continuing to play multiple sports. They want their kids to be successful and happy, but the path to healthy success is not always apparent. I’ve had some time to reflect on my decision to play multiple sports up until college. Years after creating my own path, here’s what I know now: Why I Decided Against Specialization


Dear Griffin,

I’m writing you a letter. You won’t read it, I’m sure. You’ve never been very good about checking your mailbox. But I’m going to write it anyway.

There will be a time sitting on the cold tile floor of the Holiday Inn in Fort Myers, Florida, where you will say aloud, “Should I be better than this?”

You’re a talented high school baseball player getting looks from Division 1 and Division 3 schools. You’re no prospect, but you’re good.

Napping in your room around the corner is your best friend, your dad. A former major league pitcher of 13 years with an All-Star selection and over 100 career wins. And you’ve just come from meeting a childhood friend, whose father also played professionally. Your friend chose the specialization path early on. He has played baseball—only baseball—his whole life and has committed to play at an elite Division 1 school and will soon be selected in the Major League Draft.

You may not mean it, but you say it anyway, “Should that be me? Should I quit hockey and focus on baseball with the hopes of Division 1 and possibly professional ball? Is specialization right for me?”

You’ll say no. And you don’t know it yet, but it’s the best decision you’ve ever made.

Hockey will give you enough pain and happiness to last a lifetime. The postgame dance celebrations and the adrenaline rush after a big hit–these feelings will stay with you. The overtime wins, the sting of a blocked shot, and the crippling wave of exhaustion that crashes over you after a game. You’ll continue to experience these, too. And you’ll know the feeling that you gave everything you had–mind and body–for your teammates. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings you’ll ever know.

Granted, you will miss out. You’ll never feel the thrill of playing in front of thousands of fans. You’ll never receive a call like your dad did, saying you’ve been selected by the New York Yankees. Not to mention all the Nike gear you’ll never get along the way.

But what you’ll gain…well, I can’t wait for you to see.

The path you’ll take may not make sense for others, but it’s perfect for you. You’ll still see (and love) the scar left from a hockey stick blade every day. You’ll live in Denmark for 4 months as a 21 year old, something most Division 1 athletes are unable to do. (Try not to leave). And the people you’ll meet along the way will help write your story–and they’ll do so beautifully.

You won’t ever play Division 1 baseball like your friends have. You definitely won’t play professional baseball like your dad did. You weren’t good enough anyway. But that’s okay–you wouldn’t change a thing. You’ll realize the skills and experiences gained from playing multiple sports are of immeasurable value.

It was a decision that passed as fast as a summer storm. Yet, the weight of disappointment sometimes stacked high on your shoulders. If only there was someone to tell you now–the path you’re on is right for you. So check your mailbox, Griff.