How 10 Pro Athletes Developed Athleticism

By Jessi Pierce – Special to USA Hockey


How do we develop well-rounded athletes? These 10 current and former stars all followed a similar path. Here’s what they did growing up.

How 10 Pro Athletes Developed AthleticismJordan Spieth, PGA

At just 21 years old, Spieth has rapidly climbed the ladder of the golf world. He recently won his second major golf title at the U.S. Open and ranks second in the world. Growing up, Spieth was drawn to golf, but also excelled as a quarterback, pitcher and point guard. Spieth’s mom, Chris, said his talent for golf didn’t emerge until later, but by playing other sports, his athletic prowess was noticeable early on.

“He hung up his golf clubs during football and baseball season – he was a quarterback and pitcher – two pretty big roles,” Chris Spieth said in an interview with Purpose2Play. “Then, he’d pick up golf again when summer rolled around. It wasn’t like he excelled in one sport over the other. He seemed to have a gift for them all.”

The multisport attitude was something she instilled in all three of her kids.

“I think, sometimes, when kids show an aptitude for golf at a young age, their parents push them into spending all of their time on that one sport. They get burnt out and they don’t have the opportunity to explore all the other things out there.”

Alex Morgan, U.S. Soccer

Alex Morgan established herself as one of the best female soccer players in the world. Growing up, Team USA’s top striker balanced soccer with softball and basketball. She didn’t place a heavier emphasis on soccer until she was 14 years old.

“I knew girls who had taken the leap and had gone to club teams a lot earlier, when they were 10, 11, 12; I just felt like still having fun with soccer and other sports,” she said in an interview with CalSouth. “I didn’t want to take such a big commitment on myself, you know? I think I was just having fun playing multiple sports. I was always athletic from a young age. I never wanted to narrow it down to one sport. … I loved going from soccer to basketball practice to softball to track.”

Morgan saw other athletes follow a different path and knew that wasn’t for her.

“I didn’t want to take that next step until I was ready,” she continued. “I’ve seen a lot of girls who were burned out by the time they got to college and I didn’t want to be one of those girls who was sick of what they were doing by the time they were 18 because I was playing competitively since the age of 8.”

Paul Martin, NHL, U.S. Olympian (2014)

Paul Martin was all-state in high school football and a starter for the baseball team. He even dabbled in basketball.

“I’m a big advocate for playing different sports … playing those other sports helped me become a better athlete,” Martin told Minnesota Hockey Journal. “Baseball, football, basketball, soccer or track, all those sports help round you out as a player. Nowadays everyone thinks you have to specialize at such a young age, which I don’t believe in. I think kids should be playing other sports – it really only helps them.”

Russell Wilson, NFL

Russell Wilson’s arm has been best displayed on the football field. A Super Bowl champion, the 27-year-old Wilson had a knack for baseball, too. He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010, two years before being selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The Seattle quarterback also grew up playing basketball in addition to baseball and football. Wilson is so adamant on continuing his multisport path that he even attended the Texas Rangers spring training in April.

“You never want to kill the dream of playing two sports,” Wilson told NBC sports. “I would honestly play two sports.”

Joe Mauer, MLB

Joe Mauer had a decision to make: Should he play professional baseball or be an NCAA Division I quarterback? He was a force in both sports in addition to being captain of his high school basketball team. He played all three up until graduation.

“I think kids are specializing way too soon,” he told USA Today. “Playing basketball and football really helped me in baseball, doing different movements and seeing different situations helped out. I think once you get to the college level, you have to specialize. … But as far as high school, I played three sports and it seemed to work out pretty good.”

David Backes, NHL, U.S. Olympian (2010, 2014)

The two-time U.S. Olympian played soccer, baseball, tennis and hockey all the way through high school. His parents helped guide him in that direction.

“We didn’t want him to eat, drink, sleep and do everything hockey as a kid,” his mom, Karen, told Minnesota Hockey.

John Elway, Football Hall of Fame

The famed quarterback was drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of high school and competed collegiately with Stanford before signing with the New York Yankees’ single-A farm club. Elway also played basketball growing up before going onto a storied career on the football field.

“I think when athletes and when kids have a chance to play as many sports as they can to really do that before they figure out what they like the most,” he said in an interview with Max Preps.

Anne Schleper, U.S. Olympian (2014)

U.S. Olympian Anne Schleper was a five-year letter winner in hockey, soccer and softball.

“A lot of my favorite memories come from playing sports in high school. I think it is very important to be a multisport athlete growing up,” she told “It helps you with cross-training and you get to meet different people and bond with different groups.”

Ryan McDonagh, NHL, U.S. Olympian (2014)

During his high school career, Ryan McDonagh won two Minnesota state championships with Cretin-Derham Hall – one in baseball and one in hockey. The U.S. Olympian also played football for two years.

“Being able to play all three sports helps you become much more athletic while keeping you fresh,” he told Minnesota Hockey Journal.

Steve Nash, NBA

The two-time MVP didn’t even play basketball until he was 13. Instead, the point guard had a passion for soccer. A standout in high school, Nash even had the opportunity to play professionally, had basketball not drawn his full attention. He admits the only reason he picked up a basketball was to play with his friends.

“I played soccer all the way up until I was 13,” he said in an interview with Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy. “Then, in eighth grade, I went to a new school and all my friends were playing basketball and I was playing soccer and hockey but I was missing out on what my friends were doing, so I started playing basketball to be with my friends.”

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