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High School Cross Sport Athletes

By Alan Cutler and Mark Faber

Today’s high school athletes are encouraged to specialize in one specific sport, but, as we know, to be a well-rounded athlete it is important to play multiple sports. Skills gained from different sports enhance an athlete’s overall ability and talent. No single high school sport can fully train for the mental and physical demands placed on these athletes.

High school administrators and athletic directors should encourage coaches to promote multi-sport participation, thereby reducing any appearance of sports specialization. Historically, many Division I college coaches prefer recruiting athletes that played multiple sports in high school. If you look back at the past few NFL, NBA and MLB top draft picks (first round), most were multiple-sport athletes.

We need to understand that the more athletic dexterities a player have, the more likely they are to be successful in competition. Also, by allowing them to take a break from their primary sport and preventing “burn out,” athletes may become more mentally motivated when they compete.

Not all skills developed in the various sports work in conjunction with each other, but by taking a careful look, you may find skills that are extremely similar or complementary. Specific attention should be given to specific player positions as, in football for example, an offensive lineman will have to be treated differently than a defensive back or wide receiver. With that said, identifying similar sports skills is critical to the multi-sport development of any player. Knowing that batting in baseball is very similar to hitting a tennis ball and first-step explosive speed is directly related to running a pass pattern can aid coaches in identifying the most beneficial skills to their previously specialized athletes.

What we must do better, as tennis professionals, is help other coaches realize the direct benefit of encouraging their athletes to participate in tennis in the offseason. This may be hard to sell to coaches and athletic directors who may believe in the more traditional specialized athlete, so it is important to have the right information and approach. We need to make sure they understand we are not trying to steal their athletes, but rather, enhance their overall athletic experience. We need to show coaches that we also have the best interest of their player and program in mind and want to be their partner rather than their competition. If you cannot establish this trust, many coaches will not feel secure or understand the benefit of cross-sport training, and this is not going to happen. To really help an athlete grow, a coach must put aside their personal fears or selfish motives and look at developing the athlete as a whole.

Tennis is truly a sport that develops multiple athletic moves all at once, versus some cross-training sports that only develop one at a time. The following are some ideas of what tennis brings to other sports. This is not meant to be a complete list but, rather, ideas of how to help you sell this concept to athletic directors, as well other sport coaches.

  1. First-step explosive speed: Tennis players need to get moving very quickly to be able to get to the ball. This skill directly relates to stealing base in baseball.
  2. Hitting the ball, and maybe being able to control location of hits: The sweet spot on a bat and tennis racquet are not that different. Understanding that the target is the contact point of a hitting tool (bat or racquet) is basically the same.
  3. Picking up the spin of a pitch faster: This is about learning to watch the ball as early as possible.
  4. Core rotation while hitting (power stance and coil/uncoil): Like tennis, the kinetic chain is from the ground up.
  5. Angle in arm when serving or throwing: This is also a very similar skill.

  1. Side to side movement: This is about first-step explosive speed as well as agility and balance.
  2. Athletic position: Ready position with legs loaded. This helps with movement as well as jumping.
  3. Reading and anticipating of opponent’s movement.
  4. Focus on big point: Learning to controls the athlete’s emotions, calming themselves down to allow for more success.
  5. Recovery between points and refocusing on tasks.

  1. Quick explosive movement/short sprint as it relates to footwork and balance.
  2. Reading and anticipating of opponent’s movement.
  3. Tracking skills: Learning how to improve interception of the ball.
  4. Multiple directional changes: Agility with speed and control.
  1. Core rotation while hitting (power stance and coil/uncoil): Like tennis, the kinetic chain is from the ground up
  2. Controlled club head acceleration: learning the difference between generating power from the legs and using the hands to control hitting location and spin.
  3. Angle of club face to manipulate ball hitting direction is very similar to club head.

  1. Service motions are very similar for developing the ability to hit different spins on the serve.
  2. Tracking skills and understanding angle of attack to intercept the balls location.
  3. First-step explosive speed to get the ball earlier.
  4. Reading and anticipating of opponent’s movement .
  5. Recovery between points and refocusing on tasks.

  1. Wide receivers/defensive backs and linebackers.
  2. Tracking skills and understanding angle of attack to intercept the ball’s location.
  3. First-step explosive speed to get the ball earlier.
  4. Multiple directional changes: Agility with speed and control.
  5. Recovery between points and refocusing on tasks (like between plays).
  6. Reading and anticipating of opponent’s movement.

As mentioned previously, football and some other sports will be based on position. Being knowledgeable in the synergies between different sports, no matter what they are, is the most important part of our message to coaches. We want to be viewed as trusted partners in the success of their players, rather than the coach that is trying to steal away a good player.

Once we have explained the benefits of multi-sport athletes to the coaches, it is important that we provide them with enough information to encourage their players to consider the benefits. A proper periodization schedule would include an active rest period, which is the perfect time for participation in another sport. We must break down barriers and perceived threats of taking good athletes away from one sport to another and make sure everyone, including the player, understands the benefits of working together to develop better athletes.

Athletic directors and physical education administrators need to get involved at a higher level as well to make sure coaches are introduced and trained to understand the benefits of cross-sport participation. However, at the end of the day, it is still likely that tennis coaches will need to sell this to the other coaches. We must foster a sense of trust and cooperation between coaches.

At the end of high school, most athletes will not have the skills or talent to compete at the college level. Even though these athletes may not have the ability to continue, it should not stop them from participating in sports as adults. Coaches need to meet the needs of all their athletes, not just the ones that will make it to the next level. The introduction and encouragement to participate in sports like tennis allow these athletes to continue to find recreational exercise for the rest of their lives.

About Alan Cutler. USPTA Master Professional
Alan Cutler is one of the only dual master professionals that also holds two specialist degrees (computer and competitive player development). He taught tennis in municipalities, leased facilities, resorts, HOA’s and has held many levels of positions from teaching professional to president. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science.

About Mark Faber, USPTA Elite Professional
Mark Faber is the director of tennis at Twos Athletic Club and has been a USPTA member since 1993. Mark has been a no-cut high school coach for 24 years, spoken at USTA, USPTA and high school divisional and national education events and is involved locally, sectionally, divisionally and nationally on committees and boards.

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