NFHS Voice: Regardless of Future Direction, Multiple Sports/Activities is Best Choice

By Karissa Niehoff
NFHS Executive Director

May 7, 2021

The values of participating in high school activities – sports, speech and debate, music, theatre and other programs – are well-documented.

A majority of the 12 million-plus participants in education-based activities have higher grade-point averages, are more disciplined and self-confident. In addition, research indicates that participation in high school activities is often a predictor of later success – in college, a career and becoming a contributing member of society. 

This past year, the importance of these activities was demonstrated further through the consequences that occurred when these programs suddenly were unavailable.

The social, emotional and mental health of students was affected. When sports and activities no longer were available, many students self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety. With less physical activity and no involvement in these programs, there were state-reported higher incidences of youth suicide. The research is sobering, and the link between participation in activities and overall health has arguably never been so clear.

So, there is a hope that the expected return to full programming this fall will begin the healing process.

And, if the opportunity to play one sport or activity is a positive step, the chance for involvement in multiple sports or activities throughout the entire school year has untold benefits – for the majority of students who are involved in high school activities to compete with their friends for fun, as well as those who are hoping to play sports at higher levels. 

For many students, the experience of playing on a high school team may be the most positive aspect of their lives, and the high school coach or director of a speech or music group may be the most positive role model they have.

So, the return of these activities in schools nationwide is crucial. These programs provide a welcoming place and a means for support, guidance and direction. And when one sport or activity season ends, students should be encouraged to become involved in another activity the next season. Students can also enjoy multiple activities concurrently, such as participating on a sports team while also belonging to a performing arts group.

In a recent article in High School Today magazine, counselors at a school in Delaware reported that the most successful students applying to college and for scholarships are those involved in multiple sports, band, debate and other activities.

In some cases, the opportunity to participate in activities is the chief motivator to attend classes, graduate from high school, obtain a job and begin a career. Playing multiple sports and/or being a part of multiple arts and activities keeps students engaged throughout the school year.

Playing multiple sports is also the best direction for the 3 to 5 percent of high school athletes who will play at the college level. Many parents believe for their son or daughter to earn a college scholarship, they have to specialize in one sport year-round. This is simply not true. 

As opposed to playing one sport year-round, playing multiple sports often affords student-athletes a better chance of landing a college athletic scholarship or, for the most elite athletes, having their name called in the NFL or NBA draft.

Consider this year’s NFL draft. Of the 32 first-round draft picks, 27 played one additional sport other than football in high school, and 10 of the 32 played two other sports. Amazingly, one individual – Jaelan Phillips – played five sports (football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and track & field) at Redlands (California) High School.

The list of high-profile professional athletes who played multiple sports in high school rather than focusing on one sport year-round includes the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Mauer, Bo Jackson, Alex Rodriguez and John Elway among numerous others.

The advantages of playing multiple sports rather than specializing in one sport are numerous. Students who play multiple sports have a reduced risk of overuse injuries, are able to learn from multiple coaches, participate in cross-training which leads to better athleticism, have better mental development and teamwork skills, and have a reduced chance of burnout in sports. 

A number of successful business men and women were highly involved in high school and college sports or performing arts as well. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was the captain of her swimming team and also played lacrosse, tennis and basketball. Former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb was the captain of the Stanford soccer team. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan played rugby at Brown University.

Whether the goal is to participate in high school sports and activities to have fun with their peers, or to achieve a college athletic scholarship, or to be a lifelong participant, the best route to achieving a successful, healthy balance in life is to participate in multiple sports and other activities.   

Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is in her third year as executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the first female to head the national leadership organization for high school athletics and performing arts activities and the sixth full-time executive director of the NFHS, which celebrated its 100th year of service during the 2018-19 school year. She previously was executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.

This Week in High School Sports: 3/15/23

By Jon Ross
MHSAA Director of Broadcast Properties

March 15, 2023

This week's edition reviews the MHSAA Ice Hockey Finals, awards Game Balls to standouts in gymnastics and basketball, explains basketball replay rules and closes with highlights from the Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals. 

MI Student AidThe 5-minute program each week includes feature stories from or network affiliates, along with "Be the Referee," a 60-second look at the fine art of officiating.

"This Week in High School Sports" is powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Listen to this week's show by Clicking Here.

Past editions

March 8: Individual Wrestling Finals review, Competitive Cheer Finals highlights - Listen
March 1:
Midland heroes, Team Wrestling Finals review - Listen
Feb. 22:
Basketball Districts begin, Finals cap Upper Peninsula swimming & diving season - Listen
Feb. 15:
Hockey tournament changes, MHSAA social media - Listen
Feb. 8:
Winter Postseason Starts, Scholar-Athlete Award - Listen
Feb. 1:
Kent City coach Jill Evers, "Officials Appreciation Week" - Listen
Jan. 25:
Historic hoops wins, Michigan's national ranking in sports participation - Listen
Jan. 18:
Brad Bush joins MHSAA, Al DeMott sets coaching record - Listen
Jan. 4:
Winter Championships, Officials Recruitment - Listen
Nov. 23:
8-Player Football Finals, Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals, Volleyball Finals - Listen
Nov. 18:
Concussion Myths, Navea Gauthier's record-setting Shelby volleyball season - Listen
Nov. 11:
Lower Peninsula Cross Country, Boys Soccer Finals review - Listen
Nov. 2:
Football Playoffs Week 1 notables, Fall 2022 championships and broadcasts - Listen
Oct. 26:
Football Playoffs pairings selection, Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals - Listen
Oct. 19:
Sunday Selection Show, Lower Peninsula Girls Golf & Boys Tennis Finals - Listen
Oct. 12:
25th Women In Sports Leadership Conference highlights - Listen
Oct. 5:
Upper Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals champions, Rockford's Anna Tracey - Listen
Sept. 28:
MHSAA Sportsmanship Summits return, Owosso's Macy Irelan - Listen
Sept. 21:
MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Awards, Marquette's Maddy Stern - Listen
Sept. 14:
MHSAA record books, Detroit Renaissance's Kaila Jackson - Listen
Sept. 7:
Sports Participation rebounding, Paw Paw's Paige Miller - Listen
Aug. 31:
Michigan Power Ratings and soccer seeding, Fenton's Gracie Olsen - Listen
Aug. 24:
Redesigned, key dates and how to watch football in 2022 - Listen