The Art of Being a Crossover Athlete

As a rugby coach, I fully understand that for the majority of my players rugby is not their main sport.  For most of my athletes I had to find them while they were playing other sports and convenience them to come give rugby a try during their off season.  Honestly, I do not care if they play soccer, basketball, football, wrestle, they are all great options in my opinion.  I just want to find kids who are playing other sports and turn them into rugby players.  My point is, I am well versed in the art of creating crossover athletes, and actually prefer them because of the varied skill set they often times bring to the table. 

Over the course of my athletic career, I feel like I played every sport there is.  Soccer, gave way to the local swim team in elementary school.  Eventually this turned to wrestling, and lacrosse.  Finally I found my way to football in high school, and a rugby career that continues to this day.  I have been a crossover athletes all my life. 

My point of all this is not to list off my athletic resume, but rather showcase how competing in various sports helped me to become a better rounded athlete.  By varying the muscle groups and skill sets I trained, I was able to build weak areas, and create a more encompassing skill set. You do not have to take my word for this, we are seeing cross over athletes make impacts at the highest level of sports.  It was just a few week's ago that Ohio State Football head coach Urban Myer admitted that he preferred to recruit multi-sport athletes.  

Check out my top five multi-sport athletes.  Each of these athletes used the skills and experience from their previous sports to propel them to success in their current one.

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5) Perry ‘Speedstick’ Baker/Carlin Isles: Many of you may not know who these two gentlemen are, but that will change over the next few years as the 2016 Olympics approach.  Carlin Isles grew up playing football, and was a standout at Div 3 Ashland in Ohio.  After university he moved to California where he joined the United States sprint team, and narrowly missed out making the 2012 U.S. Olympic team as a 100 meter sprinter.  Carlin did not allow that disappointment to dampen his spirit. His exceptional speed  was noticed by the United States Rugby Sevens team, and since Sevens will be the newest Olympic Sport in 2016, Isles decided to change his focus to becoming an Olympic rugby player.  In his two years on the national team he has taken the world by storm earning the moniker “The Fastest Man in Rugby.”  It’s no surprise that he has world class straight line speed, but thanks to his strong background as a football player allows Carlin to also possess a great ability to cut, and avoid defenders all while maintaining top in speed.

If Carlin Isles is the fastest man in rugby, then Perry ‘Speedstick’ Baker is the second fastest man in rugby by a fraction of a second.  Like Isles Baker grew up playing football down in Florida, a state known as a hotbed for football talent.  After some time in Canada and the Arena league Perry also found the allure of rugby and Olympic gold too great to pass up.   In just a few years, Baker has gone from a club player in Florida to making his debut for the US National team, and he exploded onto rugby’s international stage becoming a regular starter for the United States. Baker has a unique blend of size and speed that made him a standout receiver and is projecting into a stellar rugby career.

4) Deion Sanders: Deion Sanders brought style and flair to the NFL, but while he was locking down receivers for the majority of his career, he was also an important part of the Atlanta Braves championship teams in the 1990’s.  Perhaps the most dedicated two-sport athlete of all time, Sanders once played for the Falcons during the day, and played in a World Series game for the Braves that night.  Deion had elite level speed that he showcased as a Hall of Fame punt-returner and a more than serviceable outfielder and a threat on the base path due to his blazing speed.


3) Jimmy Graham: Graham began his career as a basketball player, playing four years for the University of Miami.  During a fifth season he took up football for the much celebrated Hurricanes squad.  While it was a slow build, he showed enough potential to be picked in the third round of the NFL draft. Within a year he would be an All Pro and setting franchise records for the New Orleans Saints.

Much of Graham’s success is attributed to his ability to make plays in the air on the ball, and his ability to position his body against a defender.  These are all skills learned on the hardwood and brought to the gridiron.


2) Russell Wilson:  Russell Wilson has been a  two sport athlete his entire life.  While attending N.C. State he was their starting quarterback and played on the baseball team. Wilson was such a standout baseball player that he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies.  His football career at N.C. State would come to an early end after his refusal to stop playing minor league baseball in the summer.  This led to a year at Wisconsin where he rose to the national stage as the Badgers starting quarterback.  He made such an impact that Wilson chose the NFL over the MLB after realizing he had a future playing pro-football.  In his first three years in the NFL Russell Wilson has become the prototype for the new athletic quarterback.  Perhaps his best game changing skill is his ability to slide and get down to the ground safely avoiding the big hits that so many quarterbacks suffer.  This is a skill learned from years of sliding while running the base path.

1) Bo Jackson: Bo knows sports.  How good was Bo Jackson as an athlete?  The New York Yankees drafted him in the 2nd round of the MLB draft, out of high school, but he passed to attend Auburn University on a football scholarship.  While in college, Jackson qualified for the NCAA Track & Field National Championships twice.  He was a star on the Tigers baseball team, batting .401 for his career, and he won the Heisman Trophy in 1985 an award handed out to college football’s most outstanding player for that season.  After college Bo went on to star in the NFL and MLB where he is the only person to be name an All Star in two of the major American Sports.

All of these athletes come from different backgrounds, experienced different coaching systems, and trained different ways.  What is consistent between all of them is they were multi-sport athletes who proved you can not only play multiple sports but you can take lessons learned from one and apply to another, and then succeed.