How Keystone students show range
“The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization. While it is undoubtedly true that there are areas that require individuals with Tiger’s precocity and clarity of purpose, we also need more Rogers: people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress. People with range.”
During last Friday’s Senior Night for the basketball teams, we heard from coaches and students how Keystone students lead such full lives and do so much. Amid the tears and laughter were descriptions of our Cobras’ extracurricular activities and commitment to serving others. Beyond the court, these young women and men do great work in the classroom, they improve their communities, and inspire us to be our best selves.
As I listened to the coaches list all the students have accomplished, I thought of the recent tragic death of Kobe Bryant. Although I grew up as a fan of the great New York Knicks teams of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, and now cheer “Go Spurs Go”, I admire how Bryant advocated for children playing more than one sport. In this 30- second video, Bryant argues for the benefits of children participating in a variety of sports. He stresses that we cannot know what will spark a child’s creativity, so we should expose children to a number of activities.
Similarly, a 2015 article in USA Today,“US Women Were Multi-Athletes Before Focusing on Soccer,” explains that some of the finest female American soccer players participated in multiple sports before concentrating on soccer. “A quick survey of members of the squad found that collectively they played at least 14 different sports competitively while growing up, as well as soccer,” the article notes. “And significantly, all believe the other disciplines enhanced rather than hindered their soccer careers.”
There are countless benefits that come from children cross-training. For example, playing different sports can prevent burnout, and in some cases, children can transfer what they learn in one sport to another and make them stronger across the board. Many years ago at a school in St. Louis, I observed how one of our school’s top chess masters applied what he’d learned on the chessboard to basketball so he could figure out the opposing team’s plays before anyone else. Although he had less raw physical talent than his teammates, he could intercept passes or steal the ball because he knew where the play was going.
Medical research has also shown the potentially deleterious effects of overtraining in one sport. Taxing the same muscles without rest can lead to repetitive stress injuries while cross-training can increase overall strength and muscular resilience. All too often, we hear of young athletes suffering injuries that should not affect people their age. Playing multiple sports can actually be better for one’s body than over-concentration and may prevent ending their career far too early. To learn more, check out this Bryant Gumbel “Real Sports” episode on the increasing number of surgeries for young athletes.
History is replete with examples of people playing multiple sports and being successful. As a child, I read about Jim Thorpe and watched Burt Lancaster star in the movie “Jim Thorpe-All American” that recounted the life of the Native American All-American football player, professional basketball star, and Olympic gold medal-winner. Similarly, in the 1930’s, Babe Didrikson Zaharias won gold medals in track and field before playing professional golf and winning ten LPGA championships.
Writer David Epstein explored the tension between early specialization and variety in his 2019 book, “Range,” and an excerpt published last year in Sports Illustrated explains what he calls a “sampling period” for children.
“But when scientists examine the entire developmental path of athletes, they find that the eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will later become experts,” Epstein writes.” Instead, they undergo what researchers call a ‘sampling period.’ They play a variety of sports, usually in an unstructured or lightly structured environment; they gain a range of physical proficiencies from which they can draw; they learn about their own abilities and proclivities; and only later do they focus in and ramp up technical practice in one area.”
As is so often true, the world of sports provides lessons beyond the courts and fields of play. One could posit that specialization of any sort at too young an age can stunt a child’s overall growth. Youth should be a time to try new things, take chances, and stretch oneself.
As you might expect, our Keystone Cobras demonstrate their eclectic nature regularly. The middle school student who is a member of the Keystone robotics team rushes from a Saturday morning competition to a violin concert that same afternoon to perform with the San Antonio Youth Orchestra. The senior who wins awards and accolades in Science Fair stars on stage in Macbeth, and for years started on the volleyball team. Just last week, we recognized another senior who also earned plaudits in the State Science Fair while playing three sports every year. Many of our students participate in an array of activities and exemplify a well-balanced life.
It is only by trying different things that young women and men can discover their passions. One day in the future, they may be required to specialize. For now, let’s give them the opportunity to be Renaissance people engaged in a plethora of activities and discovering what excites them. They may surprise themselves, and us.