Should Athletes be Emphasizing ‘Specializing’?

At 6 foot 4, 245 pounds, Glenbrook North (GBN) senior, Michael Oh, is built like a linebacker. However, what he specializes in is far from rushing the quarterback.

A right-handed starting pitcher in the GBN rotation, Oh decided to drop playing football, basketball and golf to pursue his dream of playing in the big leagues.

Photo courtesy Michael Oh's twitter
On the mound is GBN Pitcher, Michael Oh.

“I saw more of a future in it,” said Oh. “I think playing [baseball] gave me more joy. I had more fun playing it than any of the other sports.”

After his sophomore year in high school, Oh realized he was burdened by playing other sports and it was clear to him he had to quit.

“You should start specializing when the other sports become an inconvenience to what you really want to focus on.”

Oh, whose fastball hits the 88-89 mph range, is being recruited by Creighton, Villanova, Western Michigan, Ball State and many other universities.

According to an article written in the Changing the Game Project, “Is It Wise to Specialize? by John O’Sullivan,” there are many reasons why players would exclusively stick to one sport. However, there is potential for negative affects as well.

O’Sullivan writes, kids that specialize too young, “account for 50% of overuse injuries.” As well as being, “70% to 93% more likely to be injured.”

Alongside Oh is fellow GBN senior, Casey Kempner. A 6 foot 3 inch, 175 pound left-handed pitcher whose fastball lights up 90-91 mph on the radar gun.

Lefty, Casey Kempner pitches for his club team Longshots Baseball
Lefty, Casey Kempner pitches for his club team Longshots Baseball

Kempner, who played football, basketball, hockey and soccer started focusing only on baseball after his freshman year of high school, when he quit the basketball team.

Like O’Sullivan, Kempner agrees that specializing too young may not be a good idea for athletes. However, he says as you get older it becomes more acceptable.

“I think it’s a good thing to do when you get to high school,” said Kempner. “I wouldn’t recommend [specializing too early], but when you seriously choose a sport and want to excel and succeed in it, you should put all [of] your time into that one sport.”

Kempner believes you have to be smart about sticking to one sport. There are advantages of playing 365 days out of the year, but you do need a day off every once in awhile.

“Playing year round [is an advantage] because you’re always working for your sport and always staying in your specific sport shape,”said Kempner. “Throwing year round isn’t good, but doing baseball workouts and conditioning for your sport are.”

With his high heater, Kempner is committed to continue his career at Heartland, which ranks within the top 50 in the nation among all Junior Colleges (JUCO). After JUCO, Kempner is committed to play for the University of Kentucky where he, just like Oh, hopes of one day making it to the Major Leagues.

With high risk comes high reward.

While the chance for injury appears off in the distance, Kempner and Oh both hope they are not one of the many who suffer from an injury. Potentially taking away the only sport they have left.

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