Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up as single-sport athletes…

It was an inescapable theme during the NFL Scouting Combine podium interviews from every position group. Nearly every prospect in Indianapolis talked about how they played other sports through high school and how much it helped them become better athletes, football players, and people in general.

Basketball, track and wrestling were three of the major sports where players also competed, but there was a wide variety. Illinois safety Sydney Brown was a figure skater. Iowa EDGE Lukas Van Ness played hockey. Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave credited his skiing background for building up his leg strength. Princeton wideout Andre Iosivas got more explosive thanks to playing volleyball.

The emphasis on being more athletically well-rounded instead of focusing on one specific sport really hit me, the parent of a couple of aspiring collegiate athletes. I left the Combine Friday night to drive to Louisville for the weekend to be with my 14-year-old daughter at a major volleyball tournament.

At that tournament, most of the top volleyball clubs have strict rules once a player hits 14 or 15 years old: No more sports outside volleyball. Period. Don’t even ask. My daughter’s club allows one other sport in a year, but it’s clear they’d prefer if that option weren’t exercised.

My 17-year-old son, a borderline D-I/D-II prospect as a basketball player, was told by two different AAU teams that football was forbidden for all their players (he quit football after 9th grade). Other sports were allowed but generally discouraged for the time commitment. Two friends have kids who are high-level teenage soccer players, and those kids are not allowed to do any other extracurricular activities (band, theater, jobs) if they want to be on a top-level club.

The contrast between all these very successful college athletes trumpeting how valuable playing multiple sports was for them against the pressure to specialize in a sport before high school at the travel youth level was starkly obvious. Discouraging. It’s an incredibly short-sighted and self-serving move by travel programs and clubs for teenage sports.

The colleges who have talked to my son about playing basketball for them have almost all said they want him to be involved in other sports. One D-II head coach recently told him they don’t really like single-sport athletes because they want better all-around athletes and guys who show they’re competitive away from the court. It’s abundantly clear NFL teams all view diverse sports backgrounds as major assets to build up better athletes, not to mention mentally tougher and more competitive people.

Yet the youth travel/club sports circuit seems to be doubling down in the opposite direction. It makes zero sense other than for the myopically focused clubs themselves. It’s the wrong choice for the vast majority of young athletes and their families. It’s absolutely the wrong choice if you are the parent of a football player who aspires to be in the NFL. The Combine proved that beyond any doubt.