Grooming the Polysport Athlete for Ultimate Success

After a few brief weeks without after-school youth sports, the arrival of Spring heralds the beginning of baseball season…and lacrosse season and spring soccer season and pre-track track season. For polysport athletes and their families, scheduling can be a tricky, sacrifices have to be made. Luckily there’s a growing trend towards less homework and learning to play the guitar can wait for road-trips because the ultimate goal must be kept in sight.

The polysport athlete preps.

The polysport athlete preps.

While numerous studies and organizations such as USA Hockey and Little League Baseball espouse the virtues of young athletes participating in multiple sporting activities, this generally implies a few primary focal sports played in consecutive seasons, one following the other.  For my boys this has meant a winter dominated by hockey followed by baseball or lacrosse then on to track then soccer and back to hockey.  But the term is outdated.  A polygon is a shape with three or more sides and so it would be more fitting to say that the modern youth athlete who is often playing more than one sport in a given week (or day) is a polysport athlete capable of being a mid-fielder in the morning in Rockland and a second baseman later that afternoon in Bangor.

For example, Zane is currently playing lacrosse and baseball, having followed many of his hockey friends into the fast-paced, action filled indigenously developed sport last year and forsaking the slower, error filled excursions of little league.  But something drew him back to baseball this spring and he had his first game on Tuesday, playing first then pitching four innings while collecting a walk and getting hit by a pitch but generally having a pretty good time.  Meanwhile, on Thursday he’ll return to the lacrosse field where he’s emerged (despite several pleas and threats from his parents) as quite a good little goalie for the EYL Screaming Eagles.  Now, its one thing for a kid to play a number of sports but to be pretty good at them sets a number of challenges.

First, what is the ultimate goal?  A professional career, obviously.  The literature will talk about having fun and keeping fit and building character but lets face a few facts, we aren’t investing all this time and energy without a six-year/$125 million contract in mind.  To achieve this goal, the kid will need to specialize as he enters his teens.  Meanwhile, it’s about trying lots of sports to see where his true talents lie and how they can be exploited.  Again, people like to blab about following your passion and loving what you do but while I love to write plays, I’ve never managed to make a living at it.  No, this is going to take effort and a benchmark targeted plan using advanced analytics.

Let’s start with the basics: In what sport does my boy have the highest percentage chance of making it to the big leagues?

A recent study showed that for both boys and girls, the best chance to land a NCAA D1 scholarships is in ice hockey (around 10%).  This can be attributed to the relatively smaller number of players compared to a fairly large pool of opportunity.  Basketball, not surprisingly, would be the lowest percentage due to high number of players, small team size and thus, limited opportunity.  Good thing my kids don’t play basketball and we’re not talking college here anyway.  We’re talking PROS!

In net for the EML Screaming Eagles

In net for the EML Screaming Eagles

Okay, what are Zane’s assets?  He’s fast, he’s a fearless goaltender and he throws left-handed.

Running:  He likes to run.  Great.  Kids love to run.  He’s pretty fast but not even the fastest kid in his grade.  He’s better at distance but unless he’s clocking sub-4 minute miles in the next two years we can put that aside.  He’d be good at football but the risk of injury is too great relative to the rewards as determined by the Risk/Reward ratio which factors in such things as average career length and CTE potential along with salary and advanced injury stats.  In football, the average pro-career is only 2 years, contributing to a R/R of 3.2.  Not worth it.  Endurance running is good for lacrosse and soccer though.  Downside of lacrosse, pro-league is way down the list for potential earnings and with some injury potential a R/R of 3.6 also finds it wanting.  Soccer has massive career potential and huge opportunity with most injuries being fake but the kid only plays it sparingly and if we factor in the Brazilian/Liverpool index (which is comparable to the MA/MN/CA (Canada not Cali) index in hockey) divisor we get an advanced PRR (Potential-Risk-Reward) of 4.5.  Not bad but not great and and not great doesn’t get a $55 million transfer fee.

Goalie: The upside of being a hockey goalie is the star status of the position and big rewards when a player makes it to the NHL.  Pros like Ben Bishop, Henrick Lindquist and Tukka Rask lock up massive contracts.  The risk is also relatively low in a contact sport even with 100 mph slap-shots headed at them as most players are adverse to taking out a goalie, they’re rarely near the boards and wear massive amounts of padding.  Zane – if his nutrition, strength and stretching exercises keep him on pace to achieve his maximum growth projection-should be an ideal size for the position at about 6’ 3” and roughly 220 lbs.  In addition, he’s been putting on the pads since age 6 and so has experience on his side.  We can factor in the ME/NH/VT index also which, while lower than the MA/MN/CA value, is still worth considering.  While the boy enjoys tennis and golf, we can pretty much give up on those at this point because he started way too late and we live in Maine.  Maybe if we moved to Florida he’d have a chance at these sports but, like gymnastics, if you aren’t nationally ranked by age 10, enjoy it in your leisure time.  The one drawback to hockey goalie is opportunity.  The University of Maine currently has three goalies on the roster and two more arriving in the fall.  There is only one net.  At the end of the year travel tryouts nine players went out for four slots, meanwhile fifty skaters vied for thirty two slots.  You do the math.  It’s tough to be a goalie.  Still, with a PRR of 7.8, ice hockey is a high value priority.

Lefty: There are only four high-profile sports where being a lefty gives a distinct advantage and two of those are boxing and MMA which we can eliminate easily based on PRR’s of 1.3 and 2.1.  Zane does enjoy hitting things and wrestling his brother and as numerous pucks, beanballs and accidental collisions on the playground can attest, he can take a hit but the risk is too high relative to career length and earnings potential.  We can also devalue MMA as a youth focal point due to the high number of pros who began the sport later in life.  As for boxing, well, no one really boxes anymore.  This leaves tennis (see McEnroe, John and Nadal, Rafael) which we’ve already dismissed.  But then there’s baseball.

z pitching

Future MLB starting pitcher…or mid-inning reliever.


If there’s one sport you want to be left handed in, either batting or throwing, it’s baseball.  Batting lefty gives a hitter a three step head start to first base (see Suzuki, Ichiro) as well as a generally shorter fence to bomb (see Ortiz, Big Papi) and the advantages are even greater for left-handed pitchers.  The rarity of a lefty pitcher, combined with the need creates high value even for a guy who only pitches to one hitter a night.  If the lefty can bring power, endurance and a decent curve to the equation a high-draft signing bonus and extended career is likely.  Risk is relatively minor.  A line shot to the head is always a possibility but a low percentage one.  The potential for torn ligaments in the elbow or shoulder are of greater concern but there’s always Tommy John surgery and often that year off as well as the replaced ligaments can extend a career beyond the initial projections.  Zane might be slightly behind in experience having taken last year off, and the PR/TX/CA (Cali not Canada) index doesn’t help, nor does living in Maine but the relative physiology/prep of baseball, especially with pitchers still gives the game  a PRR of 8.6 and by far our greatest chance to make it to the bigs.

(Brief gender aside:  Girls can become pros at almost any sport these days, just not in the numbers boys can and they’ll be playing for less money and mostly overseas. Two exceptions are tennis and golf although nobody except South Korea really watches women’s golf.  Tennis is the only sport in which women compete for equal pay on the biggest stages and with Serena bound to retire eventually, your best bet is to put a racquet in your girl’s hand and teach her to pound it from the baseline.)

So there we are.  Starting pitcher for the Red Sox.  To that end, I’ve booked him in three baseball camps this summer, one here with his friends and then one in Texas and then the big showcase event down in Georgia so he can get on the national prospect lists and we can look for an apartment as he’ll be moving to middle-school anyway and I’ve left the University so, it seems a good time to head south.  I’ll be spending the next few weeks researching our best options as determined by my newly created Advanced Athletic Advancement Acquisition analytic (because we ain’t stopping at Triple A!) and while my initial instincts are to head to Texas, Florida may be the better option.  Maybe I can sweep floors at the IGM Academy or help update the website in exchange for tuition?  I understand signing away 10% of his career earnings is also an option and, really, whose going to miss a measly $12 million at that point.  Holly and Augi can stay here as he works on his slap-shot and skating because as a righty, he doesn’t have much chance in baseball.  I guess if they want to come with us it’s not too late for him to take up golf.  9.4 on the PRR.




Travis Baker

About Travis Baker

Travis Baker grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and soccer. There was a brief stint with karate and a briefer one with fencing but he would not return to the glory days of youth sport until he moved to Maine and had a couple of boys, Zane (11) and August (7), of his own. Inspired by his lads, he learned to play hockey at the age of 35 and now plays every Monday night in Brewer. Thanks to a number of former students, he’s learned a wee bit about lacrosse, field hockey and track and field. When not helping out in his kid’s activities, is the award-winning playwright of One Blue Tarp and Hair Frenzy, both of which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Travis is the author of Night and the Texas Sky, and numerous short stories and essays. He is married to the founder of Maine Yoga Adventures, Holly Twining. Currently, he coaches hockey, baseball and serves on the board of the Maine Junior Black Bears as the PR Director.