Who is the greatest all-round sportsperson?
Early sporting specialisation is becoming more common and there are some strong examples of when it has been successful, like in the case of Lionel Messi who moved from Argentina to Barcelona at 13 to pursue football. Is this the only way to the top or can boys & girls still enjoy a variety of sports growing up and reach the heights of those focusing on one?
We have taken a look at some of the great sporting all-rounders of all time, and added some theory to the discussion, but which one is the greatest?
Ian & Liam Botham
Ian Botham predominantly represented England in cricket, however, Botham grew up playing football and cricket at school and at a club level. It wasn’t until the age of 15 that Botham had to make the decision as to which sport he would continue as a full-time career. He, however, continued to play football and made eleven appearances in the Football league for Scunthorpe.
Ian Botham’s son Liam also played professionally in 3 different sports. Playing county cricket for Hampshire CCC, rugby union for Cardiff Blues and rugby league for Leeds Rhinos.
Ellyse started her professional sports career at the age of 16, where she made her debut for Australia in not one but two sports. She is the youngest ever person to represent Australia in cricket and the first Australian to have appeared in both cricket and football world cup. Since her cricket debut she has become a key member of the Australian cricket team and in April 2017 Wisden named her as the leading women cricketer in the world.
Competing in two sports at a high level posed some difficult decisions and resulted in Ellyse transferring Football clubs to one with a coach who understood her cricket commitments. She has now retired from football with 18 caps.
Charles Burgess Fry
Fry's achievements on the sporting field included representing England at both cricket and football, an FA Cup Final appearance for Southampton F.C, equaling the then world record for the long jump and representing the Barbarians at rugby. He also reputedly turned down the throne of Albania. Even well into his seventies, he claimed he was still able to perform his party trick: leaping from a stationary position backwards onto a mantelpiece.
Whilst scoring over 30,000 first-class runs, C.B Fry won 3 Oxford Blues and only missed out on a 4th in rugby due to injury.
A modern day great kiwi sportsman, Wilson was a “double All Black”, representing New Zealand at rugby 71 times, and after retiring from rugby went on to represent his country 7 times in cricket. An electric winger/fullback Wilson held the try scoring record for NZ for some time, which may be partly thanks to his athletics background where he won a national track & field title.
Victor York Richardson
Richardson has to be one of the greatest all-round athletes Australia has ever produced. Captaining the Australian Cricket team and South Australian Aussie rules football team in the 1930’s, he also represented Australia at baseball and South Australia at golf. Winning the South Australia state tennis title and also a leading local player in lacrosse, basketball and swimming.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
An even broader “all-rounder” Doyle was a writer best known for his detective fiction featuring Sherlock Holmes. He was also the goalkeeper for Portsmouth Football Club and played first-class cricket for the MCC. Doyle is also held responsible for introducing downhill ski racing to Switzerland.
Cox is a current British parasport athlete, in the recent 2016 Summer Paralympics Cox won a Bronze medal in the 100m sprint, a gold medal in the 400m sprint and another gold in the Women’s C4-5 Cycling time trial. People train their whole lives in one sport to win a medal like this, imagine the commitment required to do this in two sports. What a sportswoman!!
Whilst these are some of the more diverse athletes there have also been some good examples of athletic and skill transfer between sports of recent times. Like Israel Folau jumping between professional rugby league, Australian rules football and rugby union. Or Jarryd Hayne, who is a current Australian rugby league player that recently switched to become a professional American footballer in the NFL.
You may argue that these are very extreme examples and the individuals were born with some sort of gift to make them great sports people. This is a point that many would disagree with and their success should be put down to other factors like hard work and commitment, but there is certainly a lot of academic research to suggest early diversification is the best approach for a variety of reasons. Take a look at the thoughts of Becki Jones, a Sport Education & Development lecturer a Southampton Solent University.
“With sport becoming more demanding people are at an increasing struggle to separate summer and winter sports. With the introduction of summer football tournaments and early pre-season training, it is easy to find it hard to commit to two sports. This is often done with good intentions with the aim to develop and better themselves or the team, however, it puts added pressure on those who participate in multiple sports. Past research suggests that to become an expert in one sport you are required to focus on that singular sport and complete 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. This often results in young children specialising during their primary school years and reducing if not stopping other sports participation.
However, recent research suggests the opposite and states that although specialising early can result in success it more than often results in early burnout, decreased motivation and overuse injury. Early diversification (playing multiple sports) on the other hand brings many benefits including;
By participating in a variety of sports you are developing transferable fundamental and technical skills that can be used across sports and allows for lifelong participation within sport. It is recommended that young people continue to play various sports until an age in which they can make a conscious decision to commit to a singular sport.”