In prep sports-rich Southern California, year-round good weather has, over the years, combined with improved training techniques, high-quality facilities and equipment, and skillful coaching to produce a bumper crop of athletes who excel in more than one sport.
Rosary High School athletic director Rob Ickes said he likes the idea.
“I encourage our athletes to play more than one sport,” says Ickes. “Some of the sports are a natural progression such as water polo and swimming or cross country and track.”
Ickes estimates that 57 percent of Rosary’s 510 students participate in at least one sport and 24 percent participate in two sports.
And he remembers one particular former Rosary multi-sport standout: Natalie Golda Benson.
Golda Benson played water polo, volleyball and softball for four years at Rosary and earned 11 out of a possible 12 varsity letters.
“Natalie is a Rosary legend,” says Ickes.
Golda Benson led Rosary to CIF Water Polo championships in 1998 and 1999. She went on to score 158 career goals at UCLA while helping the Bruins to three NCAA championships in 2001, 2003 and 2005. She was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Water Polo Team in Athens, where she helped the Americans earn a bronze medal. In 2008 she won a silver medal in the Olympic Games at Beijing.
Golda Benson currently is the women’s water polo coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and is widely considered to be one of the greatest water polo players of all time.
“I experienced many benefits of being a multiple sport athlete,” says Golda Benson. “By getting involved with many sports, it gave me more experiences to draw from. It also prevented single-sport burnout, because I had different things to focus on and different skills to learn.
“You may be surprised how many sports carry over with certain skills and comparisons. The skill that helped me the most was the ability to throw the ball. I was a catcher in softball, and threw the ball well, so that skill translated instantly to water polo. That skill ended up being the thing that made me most successful.”
Golda Benson also benefited off the field from being a multiple sport athlete.
“Off the field or out of the pool, having different friend groups was also good for me,” she says. “It was great to experience each sport’s culture and meet new people.
“I did not become too immersed or specialized in a single sport at an early age, which kept the interest somewhat fresh. I recommend multiple sports for younger athletes; anyone younger than junior high school age should not be specialized in an individual sport.”
Servite High School strength and conditioning coach Matt Chandler says he customizes strength exercises for multi-sport athletes.
“I believe it is a great benefit for young people to play multiple sports,” says Chandler. “They are going through such a critical developmental stage physically that playing multiple sports can only help with better motor development. A great benefit of the multi-sport athlete is that athleticism gained in one sport can only help and enhance the capabilities of another.
“The biggest problem I find with ‘specialization’ is that it locks players in the same motor patterns repeatedly and that can lead to muscle imbalances, poor motor pattern learning, and worse, injury.”
Friars lacrosse coach Tom O’Leary has numerous multiple sport athletes on his squad.
“I have guys who play basketball, football and wrestle on the lacrosse team,” said O’Leary, who said he has 70 athletes in the program. “I encourage it. Playing two sports makes the athletes more versatile and well rounded.”