Over the past decade, prep schools have noticed a shift from athletes playing two or three sports a year to highly competitive athletes honing their skills in one sport. Sports exemptions are becoming increasingly popular every year, because specialization is on the rise.
In order to be the best at a sport, athletes are beginning to focus on solely improving in their “main sport.” Many schools are conflicted about whether sports exemptions should be permitted on campus or if a subsequent decrease in athletics participation as a whole is damaging to the school.
Deerfield is at a point where it permits students to take exemptions to improve their skills in a particular sport if these athletes compete in two terms of a team sport. However, ten years ago exemptions were far more uncommon than they are today. As Assistant Athletic Director and Assistant Admissions Officer Drew Philie ’09 said, “Exemptions are a product of how things are with athletes at this point. Kids are starting to do them at younger and younger ages.”
Playing multiple sports as a competitive athlete can have advantages and disadvantages, and exemptions also come with their own set of pros and cons on a high school campus.
This fall, Kathryn Grennon ’17 took an exemption for lacrosse. She described her daily routine as going to the gym most days to work on cardio and weight training, then joining other lacrosse exemption players on the turf to work on shooting.
This opportunity allowed players to get in shape and set goals to improve before the spring season. Grennon said, “Shooting with other dedicated and talented lacrosse players this fall has helped me improve my own skills by learning from them.” However, Grennon also noted, “I missed competing on a team and meeting new people the way I usually would during a fall sport.”
Nate Chong ’17, one of several varsity rowers who will take an exemption this winter, said, “We’ve already started practicing Monday through Friday by working out, running stairs, and erging.” He and five other crew exemption athletes are looking forward to improving their skills this winter. Specifically, Chong said, “We plan to improve our times on the erg throughout this winter.” This is especially important to them, because they will be able to track exactly how many seconds they’ve improved from the beginning of the winter term to the end. Although he looks forward to focusing on improving his times and getting in shape for the spring, he added “I, unfortunately, will be sacrificing the exhilaration of playing a sport competitively this winter.”
A few common exemptions at Deerfield this year are crew, track, ice hockey, and lacrosse, as athletes seek to thoroughly prepare for their seasons. With that in mind, there are also other ways to improve in a particular sport while not officially receiving an exemption, such as managing a team or Special Exercise.
When Mr. Philie attended Deerfield from 2006-2009, students rarely sought exemptions. He noted, “More often than not, kids played two or three sports every year.” Since exemptions can have both positive and negative impacts on an athletic program, they have only become popular in recent years, perhaps due to the stress of starting specialization much earlier on in life.
Philie stated that he does not think exemptions should be encouraged on campus. “I think as an athlete you learn something from being on a team, by meeting different kids, and playing for different coaches. In exemptions, an athlete isn’t actually competing. Yes, you lift and run, but you don’t actually get that competitive aspect in sports.”