Mount Desert Elementary School Athletic Director and Mount Desert High School boys’ varsity basketball Coach Justin Norwood urges students to pursue multiple sports. PHOTO BY AMANAT KHULLAR

Varsity boys’ basketball coach resists single sport specialization

BAR HARBOR — As a teenager growing up in Bar Harbor, Justin Norwood recalls playing two games of basketball with his friends every day.

The Mount Desert Island High School’s varsity boys’ basketball team coach recalls dunk contests and playing regular 100-point games that lasted hours. Being on a team, he said, taught him conflict resolution.

Norwood also remembers the time he wanted to quit baseball when he didn’t like the sport but was made to stick to it by his parents.

“They said ‘You’ve signed up for it, and you’re going to finish it.’ That taught me the value of seeing things through,” he said.

While playing soccer, learning to anticipate the cutting and moving of opposing players ultimately helped him in basketball.

This crossover between games, he said, is among the reasons Norwood and other coaches at the high school are against single sport specialization in young athletes.

Hopes of securing elusive sports scholarships and aspirations of an elite status drive some athletes to focus on a single sport at a relatively young age. But a study at Ohio State University suggests otherwise.

According to the university, 42 of the 47 Ohio State recruits by Urban Meyer played multiple sports in high school as opposed to a handful that specialized in football.

Norwood follows social media debates on coaching, listens to podcasts and calls himself a “coaching nerd.” The debate around single sport specialization often surfaces. He said he has yet to “hear a college coach say, ‘We look for specialized athletes.’ They’re always looking for kids who do more than one sport.”

Being average in one sport, when an athlete is exceptional in another, teaches them to be a “role player.”

“Coaches like to see kids in an environment where they’re not the star,” he added.

A study by the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas suggests that early specialization can lead to burn out, may foster overdependence on others, social isolation and perhaps risk of overuse injury.

Over the past eight years of coaching, Norwood has observed young athletes to be greatly influenced by the athletic desires of their parents. “In the world we live in, kids don’t go outside and play as much as they did when I was a kid,” he said. “To get them out and playing sports, it has to be organized, or they don’t go.”

In this setting, he said a parent can push towards a single sport because they played it at a younger age and want their child to follow in their footsteps, which he said fortunately hasn’t “seeped into our culture very much” on the island. “There is no one [coach] pushing one sport. All of the staff is pretty supportive of one another.”

As a physical education teacher, he said he finds sports to “be a great stepping stone for life.” Norwood played basketball in high school, ran track and played soccer. Sports have taught him humility and team spirit. “No matter what you do in life, you’re going to be on some sort of team,” he said. “There are very few professions where you’re just on your own, and you need to learn how to be part of something that’s bigger than you.”

Amanat Khullar

Amanat Khullar

Amanat Khullar is a sports reporter for the Mount Desert Islander. She comes from New Delhi, the capital city of India and graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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