Which Sport Yields the Best Athletes?

02/03/2015 04:17 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2015

Have you ever been in a discussion about which sport yields the best athletes? I was recently. A male-dominated group hollered it had to be football because of raw strength, speed, and toughness. I had to wait to compose my thoughts carefully. I said that it was hard to name a specific sport that was the one because I felt the best athlete must be good in as many sports as possible to be deemed the best. They pressed me for a sport and I said tennis was a good example of a comprehensive sport because it demands excellence in all of the core performance categories. I am perhaps biased because from age 11-18, I spent most of my hours outside of school either on a court or traveling to one. Here's my defense, to play tennis well, you must have: skill, strategy, speed, agility, endurance, eye-hand coordination, rapid response ability, flexibility and mental toughness. The mental piece in tennis is huge because you are solo out there -- there's no coaching, and no team to help -- so everything needs to come from somewhere inside of you. I'm sure there are other sports where all of this is going on simultaneously, but this is the one I'm most familiar with. I trail run, mountain and road bike, and ski. Put to the test above, these sports are not as athletically demanding across all categories as tennis, they could be in a few aspects, but not all.

A friend of mine was fielding a question from a parent on how his son could become the best lacrosse player on the team. Matt, the coach, advised the parent to work on all the things you'd expect on the technical side, but added the boy should play as many sports as possible. Matt is from upstate New York where multi-sport participation was a must do because of weather and seasonal rosters. He rambled off the regulars: football, soccer and basketball. Rounding out the package for depth is a great idea that crosses over to areas of specialized focus. I did it as a kid. My father was a competitor, and it was obligatory that his first born, even if a girl, have command and control of as many sports as possible by the age of 10 (including sports more customary for boys). I was playing tennis and skiing by 3, and running miles by 4. I could throw a spiral by 5, and field and hit anything my father would send my way. This wound me up as the lone girl in an all-boys league playing first base and serving as designated hitter. Other sports included swimming, volleyball, fly fishing, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, sailing, and golf. I know that the exposure to a variety of sports helped me be a better tennis player as a youth, and carries over to all the sports I do today. If you're frustrated with Strava, like me, for offering limited categories to explain your athletic endeavors, you are definitely on the right track! Constantly challenging your mind and body in sports or training manifests superior results. Core competency goes sky high the more you know and can do. And the great part is, all of this transfers directly to the bigger game of life.

One of my first jobs out of college was working for Martha Stewart in New York. I had been planning, designing and executing events in Aspen, and my task was to roll out a national events program for Martha and the magazine. After being in place one week, I was on to learning market research by week two. The magazine was in a high growth stage with a very small team and limited resources. So, I became an expert in a bunch of things quickly, on top of my responsibilities for events: market research, writing, editing, styling, marketing, advertising, sales, public relations and creative content development. I look back and know exactly what prepared me to handle this kind of demand under pressure, deadlines, and little sleep. It was my career in sports. Martha quickly figured this out, and used it for the benefit of the company -- a good idea.

The "best" athlete is good at anything they step into, even for the first time. Oftentimes when it seems that someone is a natural it is because they've been trained in a way that prepares them to do anything well. The greater the breadth and overall skill, the better the result, and the positive impact on other components. Knowing you can step into any situation and handle it well is the reward for approaching life this way. The good news for the boy that's going to go push the boundaries in a number of sports is that he'll not only be a better lacrosse player, he'll be better in any sport he does, will have improved overall health, and will be able to transfer all these skills to life, now and forever.