- Torey Lee Brooks
Multi-sport: Mediocre to Mighty
Updated: May 16, 2022
Not all of us have, or want to, fully commit to only one outdoor endeavor and instead choose more than one sport to keep us active and happy. Having aspirations in multiple pursuits can have its challenges- but over time it can help you evolve into a force of nature.
Hiking under Aoroki in New Zealand- Photo by Rachel Galipo
For the same reason we try to bag the hard elevation at the start of a trek or climb the stiffest routes while we’re still fresh, let's start with the hard truths. Being a multi-sport athlete can sometimes leave you feeling like you are working towards various forms of mediocrity. Some of the following realities can be especially tough if you are new to some, or all, of your endeavors- but I promise, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Mastering anything takes time. If you estimate it would take you 9 months to train for your first ultra race, would you then double that time if you are pursuing another sport simultaneously? Probably not. Many of us unrealistically expect the same rate of progress despite the fact that we are dividing our time in several ways. We will talk about how sports can benefit each other later, but the big takeaway here is that time and energy are finite resources. So be patient with yourself and your progression in your endeavors, especially if you are already juggling a tight life schedule as well!
We would be amiss if we didn't talk about the financial impact of having the proper gear for multiple activities. This is especially true if you are interested in sports with high price tags for entry (we are looking at you mountain biking and skiing). The reality is, you likely can’t (and shouldn't) build out your entire kit for every sport the first day- instead list the most important tools you need to safely participate in each activity, and then fill in the gaps with multipurpose gear from there. Equipment is rarely the limiting factor in your first few seasons, and often you’ll learn a lot more about which gear you truly need and which works best for you over time.
Example: Maybe you want to get into mountain biking, skiing, and hiking. You will have the inevitable purchase of a bike, skis, and some good shoes- but maybe you look at a dual-rated helmet for skiing & biking, poles and a pack you can use for hiking & skiing, and some flat pedals on your bike to start.
Activities often come with the perks of meeting rad partners and even cooler communities, and being able to have multiple of these is great! But this “double-dipping” comes with its own challenges. At some point, you’ll probably find yourself saying something along the lines of “Sorry, I can’t come to check out the new singletrack- the weather is perfect for climbing tomorrow” or “ I can’t make it skiing, I’m too wrecked from my long run yesterday”. Practice graciously declining and don’t get too caught up in the feeling of letting others down- remember that no one wants a partner who doesn't truly want to be there.
Even if you are having a blast doing one activity, watching friends on social media partake in another one of our beloved sports can leave us with our old friend, FOMO. That’s normal, just remind yourself why you chose your particular activity that day and how it works towards your own personal goals.
Climbing in Red Rock Canyon in Nevada -Photo by Rachel Galipo
Don’t let these downsides overwhelm you or feel as though multisport is synonymous with sacrifice. Here are a few (huge) advantages to being a multisport athlete that will have you feeling like you are doing it right after all.
You can take full advantage of the seasons or conditions. If you live in a place with drastic seasonal changes you likely get multiple opportunities to peak each year- which means fewer off-season blues and more time doing what you love. Also, when you do choose one specific activity over another, it’s likely due to more optimal conditions - which means more good days. Multisport can also work in your favor by giving you an easy Plan B option: Avalanche danger too high for the ski tour you had planned? Good thing you brought your running shoes for a nice winter jog instead!
Let's be honest- even the most fun, exhilarating sports can get a little old sometimes. Maybe you are sick of banging your head against the wall (hopefully figuratively) trying to climb harder, or maybe your body is starting to feel the repetitive impact of a single activity. Having multiple pastimes, especially with different movement patterns or frames of mind, can reduce the chance of burnout or injury. Sometimes things just aren’t clicking, or that nagging pain just won't go away, and having something else to keep you feeling productive, active, and fulfilled will make these unfortunate realities a lot easier to face.
Endurance, coordination, strength, mental fortitude- these are all things that are not sport-specific and whose benefits overlap from one activity to another. This act of constant cross-training and athletic well-roundedness can often make switching between sports a breeze for the experienced multi-sporter. Technical skills often translate as well, especially in the mountains. Skiing a backcountry line that requires a rappel is a lot less daunting if you have climbing experience, and skills like navigation, risk assessment, and self-awareness always come in handy. Oftentimes, we learn and practice more skills, more often than a single sport athlete would, and you may find yourself to be a jack of all trades in less time than you think.
Before skiing down Gaustatoppen in Norway- Photo by Tobias Biermann
Overall, being a multi-sport athlete can be extremely rewarding. It comes with its challenges like everything else, but the outlook is promising. Remember, be patient and try not to compare yourself to others too much. Even if you feel mediocre at everything now, know you are on a journey of becoming a well-rounded and mighty athlete of your own in the future. And don't forget, the “best” athlete is the one having the most fun.