Steamboat Springs multisport phenom is graduating with 15 varsity letters (2024)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s a windy spring day at the Steamboat Springs High School athletic field, and though the bruised sky over the ski resort in the distance threatens snow, most of the varsity boys’ lacrosse team members are wearing T-shirts and tank tops under their jerseys. A chorus of “Chuck!” erupts on the field as senior Charlie Reisman, a defender with a thin build and loping gait, scoops up the ball.

Reisman had never picked up a lacrosse stick before this season, making the unusual decision to try out for a new sport during senior year. But picking up new sports is kind of his thing: He is graduating with a total of 15 varsity letters in six sports — soccer, football, golf, basketball, track and lacrosse.

He also spent his elementary years learning to ski, mountain bike, surf and ski jump, for which he was ranked third in the nation. Multisport athletes like Reisman would be exceptional in any generation, but they’re increasingly rare in the current culture of early specialization, which pushes kids to pick a single sport at a young age and play it year-round.

Steamboat Springs multisport phenom is graduating with 15 varsity letters (2)

Youth sports clubs send parents a strong and perhaps calculated message: Specialize early, or your child will fall behind. But there’s a growing murmur among the parents and coaches: Is specialization actually good for our kids?

Each year, 60 million kids in this country register to play a sport — and because elementary schools often don’t have the funding to have school-sanctioned sports, pay-to-play youth sports clubs have become an estimated $30 billion to $40 billion industry. The clubs tout early specialization as the best way for kids to get ahead, citing college scholarships and even fueling dreams of playing professionally. They push kids to separate into recreational and elite leagues as early as 7 or 8 years old, and charge parents who buy in roughly $10,000 per child per year on some year-round programs.

The reality, however, is that among the 60 million kids who play organized sports in the U.S. 70% quit their sport entirely by the age of 13, according to a 2024 American Academy of Pediatrics study. Of the kids who don’t quit, fewer than 2% will play a sport at the collegiate level, and only 2% of those will become professional athletes.

Avoiding burnout in a trend toward specialization

The trajectory of early specialization goes something like this: As the family’s investment increases, so does the pressure on the child. The time and travel commitments increase, which mean fewer family dinners and vacations, less time for unstructured “free play,” and less down-time for recovery or hanging out with friends. The rigorous practices with repetitive drills and movement increase the risk of injury nearly twofold.

Then, eventually, the sport that started as a fun and healthy pastime becomes a job. And kids don’t want to have a job because, well, they’re kids.

Reisman has witnessed the burnout first-hand: “I met this kid when we were 12, and we became best friends,” he says. “He played on this really high-end team year-round and would travel all over. And by the start of his senior year, he quit. He was good, but he was so sick of it.”

The trend to specialize can also hurt kids who choose not to. Kids with parents who can’t afford the high cost or heavy time commitment, kids who are late bloomers, and kids who are simply not good enough are left behind on recreational leagues as their friends advance. This can be demotivating, sending a message that these kids aren’t getting anywhere with this sport, which can lead them to give up entirely.

By contrast, there are a host of benefits that come with allowing kids to play multiple sports at a lower level at least until they reach puberty. Research demonstrates that multisport athletes have a greater chance of longer athletic careers and better overall motor and athletic development. Research also says multisport athletes tend to be more motivated, more confident, more creative — and have more fun.

The reason is simple: Different sports teach different skills, and these skills are transferable.

According to Brian Harvey, a longtime hockey coach in Steamboat and the announcer for many high school varsity games, kids who come from multisport backgrounds are instantly recognizable on the ice or on the field.

“They’re more coachable, they get the team dynamics, and are just more coordinated,” he says.

Steamboat Springs multisport phenom is graduating with 15 varsity letters (3)

Reisman says multisport exposure gave him fresh perspectives on strategy and execution across the board, inspiring him to make unique plays and find unexpected solutions on the field. He credits his creativity as a reason why he was chosen for three all-state teams — including his new sport of lacrosse — in his senior year.

“It’s a ripple effect,” he says. “Golf can help with your mindset strength, and that can help in any other sport you play. Soccer has helped with my vision in basketball and made my passing better than others. Basketball has helped me in lacrosse to be one step ahead of other defenders who just play lacrosse. Being a football kicker, with those clutch moments, helps with any other clutch moments, whether it’s a golf shot, a penalty kick or a free throw.”

“I learned to be willing to fail”

Luke DeWolfe, athletic director at Steamboat Springs High School, believes playing multiple sports also teaches kids important skills they can take off the field, too. Skills like leadership, cooperation and grit.

“If kids do three sports, they’re probably not going to be exceptional at all of them,” DeWolfe says. “They’ll have to work through adversity. They’ll have to learn what it means to not be a star athlete and to just be a teammate, which prepares them for the real world.”

Reisman echoes this idea, saying he arguably learned more important life lessons as a bench player on the basketball team, where he frequently played only when his team was either up or down 30 points, than he did as a star player on the soccer team.

Steamboat Springs multisport phenom is graduating with 15 varsity letters (4)

“I learned to be willing to fail, which is a big one,” he said. “I might be the best at something, but I learned that’s not the most important thing. If you can be a supportive bench player, that can help the team so much.”

Playing multiple sports at a lower level to help create better well-rounded athletes seems logical enough, but it may even make kids who are truly gifted excel in their single sport later on. This is an important message for kids who may be among that 2% who could play at the collegiate level and beyond, because they face the most pressure to specialize. Their parents, guided by conventional wisdom and youth sports clubs, are led to believe, “If my kid is gifted, I have to take the single-sport path.”

But for the overwhelming majority of sports, not only does the evidence show that early specialization fails to help kids reach elite status, but just the opposite. Resisting that pressure, even if it means playing at a lower level, may eventually make them better at their single sport than they would be if they had specialized early.

According to Tracking Football, an independent statistics website, 90% of 2022 NFL draft picks were multisport athletes in high school. Pete Carroll, the former coach for the Seattle Seahawks, spoke frequently about the value he places on multiple sports in an athlete’s background, believing it to be vitally important in the development of a competitor. It’s not just in football, either — some of the greatest professional athletes of all time — like Wayne Gretsky, Alex Morgan, Tom Brady, Abby Wambach and Steph Curry to name a few — all credit their multisport backgrounds as key to their single-sport success.

“I did a reverse of what these specialists kids are doing”

Though he’s years away from having the opportunity to play on a professional level, Reisman demonstrates his solid multisport foundation on the soccer field, with a maturity that lifts up the whole team and makes him immeasurably more valuable as a player. Because he knows the importance of teamwork, he resists the urge to play as an individual.

“Most teenagers, especially teenage boys, will take the shot on goal if they have it,” says Harvey, the longtime varsity soccer announcer. “Whereas Charlie, when he’s got a teammate who’s wide open who can touch the ball in the net, he’s going to pass it. He had almost as many goals as he had assists, and some of his assists were better highlights than his goals.”

Colleges have taken notice, offering Reisman a host of soccer scholarships next year across the country. But after careful consideration, Reisman decided to play one more year of soccer during a post-graduate year to up his game for playing at the collegiate level.

“I did a reverse of what these specialist kids are doing,” he says. “I can now narrow down and focus on one sport and get better. These other kids have been spending 10 months a year on soccer, and I’ve been doing it for four months, so when I go to 10 months, I’ll be able to improve so much faster.”

Type of Story: News

Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Steamboat Springs multisport phenom is graduating with 15 varsity letters (2024)

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