Posted by Mark Branstad Football Talent Advisors, Ltd.
For the past several years I have read many articles, listened to high school coaches, talked with friends, and even engaged in conversation with high school athletes about specialization and its apparent rise in high schools nationwide. In fact, several prominent media sources have headlined the death of certain high school sports like wrestling and track, as athletes specialize in either football or basketball at ever growing rates.
However upon closer inspection, specialization is not occuring among high school football’s elite players at very high levels. The specialization trend actually isn’t increasing at all among the elite.
What exactly is sports specialization? Simply put, when high school athletes only participate in one sport and do not participate in others. Why does this happen? Plenty of reasons…but generally pressure from coaches and sometimes parents with the intent of focusing their athlete or child on one sport.
Pushing specialization might not seem like a bad idea and often is viewed as a caring gesture by a coach or parent. However it is incredibly ill-advised and not an informed decision if the athlete being “pushed” to specialize wants to be a Division 1 scholarship football player and ultimately an NFL player. What do I mean?
The statistics for receiving a Division 1 football scholarship or being drafted by the NFL DO NOT indicate a strong correlation to players / athletes that specialized in only football during high school. FTA has performed studies that indicate over 80% of all NFL draftees over the past three years were varsity participants in one or all of the following high school sports, not including football: basketball, baseball, track and field, wrestling, or soccer.
Track and Field had the highest level of participation among 2006-2008 NFL draftees over 52%, of all players drafted in 2008, and 56% in both 2006 and 2007. What about high school’s elite prospects? Tracking the Rivals.com 100 since 2002 indicates of the 700 players listed over that time, approximately 427 players (61%) participated in high school track.
What about quaterbacks? They usually specialize in football in high school…right? They have to!!??
Well…not exactly. Look at this college football season: Sam Bradford (basketball, baseball, golf) ; Colt McCoy (basketball, track and field – hurdles / 4X400) ; Tim Tebow (basketball, baseball) ; Matt Stafford (baseball) ; Chase Daniels (track and field – 4X100) ; Chase Clements (basketball, track and field – hurdles / 4X100) ; 2008 Baylor Freshman All-American Quaterback Robert Griffin (track and field – hurdles HS All-American and Big 12 hurdle champion) ; Terrelle Pryor (basketball, track and field).
Picture this – of 21 quaterbacks drafted in the last two NFL drafts, all but one (John David Booty, could not find adequate documentation) were multi-sport athletes in high school. That’s 20 of 21, or 95%!
Needless to say, the statistics do not favor high school specialization on the part of football players wanting to play Division 1 and possibly make the NFL. Specialization in my view among the football elite is a myth.