There are many benefits of being a multi sport athlete, from decreased injury rates, learning different teamwork and leadership skills to just staying in shape, coaches often encourage youth players to try competing in several sports. And participating in a different activity can improve an athletes performance in their original sport, as eight-time NBA champion Steve Kerr (five as a player, three as a coach) said about basketball players learning to play soccer.
“If I were the czar of American basketball and I had to say, ‘All right, I’m in charge of youth basketball in America, I would make every player coming through the youth basketball program play [soccer] because it translates directly,’” Kerr said on the show ‘Men in Blazers’. “‘The problem in basketball today [is] the young players are coming up and they just try to beat everybody one-on-one with the dribble. They’re unbelievably gifted dribbling the ball, but they don’t understand the pass and the move. Which is what [soccer] would teach them.”
For the Waconia soccer and basketball programs, an overlap between the two sports has been fruitful for all four teams. Both boys and girls soccer teams and boys and girls basketball teams were all ranked in the top 10 this past season, with both girls programs earning state tournaments berths, while the boys soccer team was ranked as high as No. 2 and the boys basketball team being ranked No. 6. All four programs have appeared at the state tournament in recent years.
“The main overlap I see with soccer and basketball is footwork, awareness and vision,” said boys soccer coach TJ Seim. “For the guards in basketball, they have a pretty easy transition since the short quick bursts of speed work on the basketball court or soccer field and their creative abilities cross over pretty quickly. We have had basketball guards like Ryan Biehn, Josh Rands, Ryan Frisinger, JJ Langer and Graham Jaeger, who pick up things so fast on the soccer field that people are confused about how a kid can play soccer for 3 months a year and be all-conference, they are top notch athletes and have the awareness and vision most athletes dream about. The big guys probably have the most to gain from soccer as it works so much on their footwork and coordination. The NCAA and NBA are full of players that have roots in soccer - Luca Doncic, Paul George, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Hakeem Olajuwon, etc... Those are NBA MVP’s, NBA Champions, Hall of Famers, not just some bench guys no one knows.”
The Waconia boys basketball team’s most recent starting point guards – Ryan Biehn and Ryan Delange – both were stars on the soccer field as well. Their leaping ability made them great at clearing the ball on the back line and winning headers in the box, while their passing ability helped them see the court.
“In soccer you have to always think 1-2 passes ahead to be good at the game,” Delange said. “You always think, ‘What can I do after I make the pass to get open or get my teammates open?’”
An athlete that is primarily a soccer player can gain valuable assets on the soccer field, while the soccer program can get top-notch athletes that pick up the game fast.
“Ask any coach in town and they would love to have those basketball kids for 3 months a year as they usually bring top notch physical skills, mental toughness and attributes you just can’t teach,” Seim said. “So having Ryan Delange who is 6’4” (All-State Soccer Player) and a complete athlete on your back line just isn’t fair to the average soccer player in Minnesota. Where in basketball he might not be All-State but he will be a really solid player. PJ Hayes IV, the all time leading basketball scorer could have been the best goalie in Minnesota, but he was stuck behind the best goalie in Minnesota First Team All-State Goalie Nate White. We are actively working on the basketball team every year to get the players who aren’t in a fall sport to come play soccer, what’s the worst that could happen? You will be in tip top shape for basketball season. The best, you end up playing in the Metrodome or US Bank stadium like pro baseball player and former basketball and soccer alum Jake Stevenson, who got to experience that on our team that got third at state, which he played a starting role in after picking up soccer in ninth grade.”
Delange said that skills from both sports crossed over, helping him on the field and in the gym. His basketball leaping ability helped him rise up to win headers and his job defending the back line on the soccer field helped him with positioning and marking his man in basketball.
“Being a defender in soccer helped me stay with my guy on defense, they both are about positioning,” Delange said.
And whether or not participating in both sports leads to a varsity starting role or not, trying out a new activity can just be about discovering a new thing to enjoy.
“In the end we really want these kids to love the games they play,” Seim said. “[Waconia boys basketball coach Pat] Hayes still runs open gyms on Sunday nights and his old players still show up to play. We run a men’s soccer league team and our old Waconia kids populate the roster including some of the soccer/basketball hybrids who were basketball players first. If we could get 2-3 of those varsity basketball kids in soccer every year, both programs will be in good shape, no pun intended.”