Dudley doing right playing multiple sports at NLHS
New London – Many of us remember our high school days fondly, a more innocent time when the objective was to shove as much fun as possible into four years.
There was no such thing as “stressed out,” unless it involved anxiety over whether you could borrow the car keys. A long day’s journey from today, when kids are viewed as abject failures if they don’t get all A’s, a Division I scholarship and are part of the Homecoming Court.
Assign blame to the societal factor du jour: helicopter parents, peer pressure, social media shaming. Whatever. Just know that it’s real. And it takes much of the fun away from what purports to be the best days of their lives.
That’s why Nalyce Dudley, among the best current high school athletes in this corner of the world, is such a refreshing story. Dudley, despite her impending Div. I scholarship to play basketball at Sacred Heart, does not follow the path of other Div. I athletes, robotically choosing to specialize 24/7/365 in one sport. Dudley, a senior at New London High, has spent the fall playing volleyball.
This is news, given the current climate of compulsion. Sure, the scholarship is fine. But do you know what’s required to keep it? Calisthenics at dawn. Private instruction. AAU. Travel. Strength training. Wasting time playing another sport? And what if you get hurt?
“Well,” Dudley was saying Tuesday before practice at Conway Gym, “I play volleyball because it helps with my basketball and because it’s fun.”
Fun? Is that even allowed anymore?
“I've always believed that you become a better athlete when you play multiple sports,” New London coach Missy Parker said, she the multi-sport coach (volleyball, basketball, softball) in Whalerville.
“Nalyce will also be playing softball again this spring, too. I tell the kids all the time that as multi-sport athletes, you develop different muscles. You play for different coaches. So you have to get used to different styles. It makes you a better all-around athlete. I know some college coaches I went to school with who tell me all the time when they're looking for athletes, they're looking for the multi-sport athletes.”
Much of the information about multi-sport benefits could be dismissed as anecdotal, particularly to the obsessed. Until now. The National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) commissioned a study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. It looked at injury levels among high school athletes who played more than one sport as opposed to those who specialize in one.
The study looked at 29 high schools and more than 1,500 athletes equally divided between males and females, a mixture of rural, suburban and urban areas of varying enrollments.
It found that athletes who specialized in one sport were twice as likely to repeat lower-extremity injuries (ankles, knees, 46 percent of the time) while athletes who did not specialize reported a 24-percent repeat rate. In addition, specialized athletes sustained 60 percent more new lower-extremity injuries during the study than athletes who did not specialize.
Specialized athletes were also twice as likely to sustain a “gradual onset/repetitive-use injury” than athletes who did not specialize.
Then there’s this: Kids like Dudley, who are among the most recognizable and respected in the school, can become pied pipers for the idea of the multi-sport/multi-fun experience. That’s significant for the many high schools that aren’t big enough to sustain one-sport kids.
And now Dudley is discovering there’s synergy between different sports.
“I'm playing volleyball because it helps me with basketball, especially with jumping,” Dudley said. “There's different components every sport has, but volleyball has helped me stay low on defense, moving my feet. It’s helped my footwork.
“I don't feel that I'm really missing out because I also go home and put up my shots (in basketball) to make sure I still stay sharp. But playing volleyball has helped me make new friends and learn a different game. It's a different sport. So it's always good to know about different things.”
Parker: “No matter what sport you play, if you're a natural leader, that translates in any sport. She has great jumping ability and spatial awareness. She's very familiar with the court. I understand volleyball has different dimensions, but she’s very familiar with this floor. She will dive for a ball here just as she does a loose ball in basketball. She's willing to put in that effort and do it consistently.”
Pretty nice, too, that Dudley has the support of her college coaches.
“My coach at Sacred Heart (Jessica Mannetti) already told us all it's always good just to play different sports,” Dudley said. “You stay active and it just looks good when it comes to college. Volleyball really helps me with communication, which is the hardest part of the game. It's just a challenge for a lot of people. It’s good to work on.”
Much time will be required for hyper-focused parents to understand that value of the multi-sport experience. But then, well, the kids have the rest of their lives to be serious. This is high school. Fun is still allowed.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.