By Greg Bach
Tamika Catchings, one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, cares about more than just scoring points, grabbing rebounds and winning games.
She cares about kids.
And she’s got an important message for parents of young athletes. One that needs to be embraced, followed and – most definitely – shared.
“I talk a lot about this, but a lot of parents now push their kids to only play one sport and I totally disagree with that,” says Catchings, who is busy chasing her fourth Olympic gold medal in Rio this week. “Because I know that for me, had I only focused on basketball, I don’t think that I would be the player that I am today.”
And what an incredible player she is: Besides her impressive collection of Olympic gold (the U.S. is just two wins away from her claiming an amazing fourth gold medal) she’s a 10-time WNBA All-Star, a WNBA Champion, a WNBA Finals MVP, a WNBA MVP and, during her collegiate playing days, she had a huge role in helping Tennessee go undefeated on its way to a national championship under legendary coach Pat Summitt.
YOUTH SPORTS DIVERSITY SPARKED GOLDEN CAREER
Catchings believes her journey to greatness happened in part because she played all sports throughout her youth. It gave her the opportunity to hone and develop a multitude of athletic skills associated with those sports.
“I had volleyball season and I had track season and I had soccer, and I played in the band when I was in seventh grade,” Catchings says. “So I did a lot of different things and because of that it allowed me to be able to have fun with every single sport that I did because it was something different every season.”
The diversity kept her fresh.
It kept her excited about new seasons and new challenges.
It helped turn her into a nearly unstoppable force on the court.
All those experiences helped her become a more well-rounded person away from the court, too.
“The biggest thing I learned was confidence,” Catchings says. “I learned early on through sports that I could build my confidence, and just even being able to express myself and being able to speak to people.”
Catchings was born with a hearing impairment in both ears, and she had speech problems. So the big and clunky hearing aids she wore, coupled with the difficulty speaking, led to lots of teasing throughout her childhood.
But through positive youth sports experiences she overcame and flourished.
“I think the biggest thing for me that my coaches taught me was how to be able to build confidence through sports and be able to work in a group setting,” Catchings says. “Because that wasn’t something that I was comfortable doing because of the hearing problem and speech problem I was born with.”
Catchings is retiring at the end of this season, closing out a remarkable career.
But her work away from the court is not done.
Remember, we said she cares about kids – a lot. Her Catch the Stars Foundation that she created in 2004 empowers youth to achieve their dreams by providing goal setting programs that promote fitness, literacy and youth development.
Incredible both on the court, and in the community, it all began for Tamika Catchings in youth sports.
They changed her life.
And when kids are encouraged to play a variety of sports they can reap those same benefits that she did, too.
That’s the message she hopes parents keep in mind.
Former NFL tight end David Sloan remembers the words a youth football coach delivered to him and how it changed his approach to the game
Olympic triathlon gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen encourages young athletes to focus on doing their best – and to move on quickly from a disappointing performance
ESPN and SEC Network broadcaster Lauren Sisler’s journey through youth gymnastics to the collegiate ranks was packed with life lessons that have helped fuel a successful career in front of the camera
Renowned Andrews Sports Medicine surgeon dissects the overuse injury epidemic ravaging youth sports and shares what coaches, parents – and yes, young athletes – should be focused on