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Ash Barty and the rise of the multi-sportsman

Barty’s cross-code skills were on display for the world last week when she nonchalantly stuck a tennis ball up her fine leg at Rod Laver Arena. It sent cricket tragedies around the world into a minor meltdown, as well as bewildered spectators stunned by her compact handshake to a dead ball.

It was also a reminder of the benefits of a multi-sport background for elite and aspiring athletes, with Barty being another example of a champion who dabbled in a range of sports either as a junior before specializing late, or just time another pursuit full of energy and motivation to pursue her vocation.

Most mortals cannot simply take on a new challenge and succeed at Barty’s pace. In any case, she is a gifted ball player who would likely excel in any team or individual environment should she decide it is worth her time and effort.

At the same time she was taking up cricket, Barty began flirting with golf, another family business. As with cricket, it was neglected as a pastime, with tennis filling her early years, although she followed it with interest whenever it was on television. a “visual learner”.

In her first full round on an 18-hole course, Barty carded a 79, the kind of score some dedicated weekend tourists would try to match for 40 years. In late 2020, with Barty’s touring movements restricted by COVID-19, she splurged on the Women’s Championship at the Brookwater Test Track near her home in Springfield, west of Brisbane.

The men’s champion that day was Louis Dobbelaar, an amateur star who has now joined the professional ranks. His trainer is Grant Field, who also coaches world No. 11 Cameron Smith, with Field having a front-row seat at some of Barty’s rounds.

Barty is playing a round of golf in Queensland.Credit:Instagram

Her ability to hit a ball cleanly is an exception to her tennis and cricket, Field said, but Barty also brings a soft feel to the greens, an area that can wreck the scorecards of more experienced players and hackers alike.

“She is tremendously talented, has a great eye and moves well. With a more golf-specific focus, she would pick it up very quickly,” Field said. “She has an incredible touch, her short game is fantastic. Although technically she could be a little better, she was wonderful on the greens. If she wanted to focus on that, her game could take off.

“She just loves sport, you can tell. She is extremely gifted and combined with the hard work she puts in she could move into a number of sports and probably be really good.”

Would field coach Barty coach if she decided after her tennis career ended that golf was in her future?

“Absolutely. That’s something you always look out for as a coach. If she ever decides to play more golf, I’d be happy to help her.”

The debate over early specialization in sport has been heated over the past decade, with mounting evidence suggesting that variety at an early age, rather than being confined to a single sport, has benefits well beyond the field of play.

Roger Federer and Emma Raducanu are among the current Grand Slam winners who came to tennis later than many of their peers, with the latter trying everything from ballet to go-karting before narrowing her focus. Barty.

Both Richards and Field said they actively encouraged every young athlete to try anything and everything. It doesn’t even have to be in a structured setting, Field said, considering how much someone like Barty has taken from simply experimenting with cricket in a game setting before actually trying.

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“Just being close, seeing it, hearing conversations, it all adds up. You just had to see her the other day, pulling one off your hips on center court,” Field said.

“We say it all the time: What makes you good at 12 isn’t always what makes you good at 16 or 17. It’s not always a requirement to be good or great. Even though it’s not a structured sport, being on the yard with a club, a golf club, or racquets makes a big difference.”

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport theorize that the obsession with specialization is usually driven by parents and coaches concerned that their budding stars could lose touch with their peers if they retire for even a few weeks or become injured when chasing a football tennis ball.

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Author David Epstein largely debunked these fears in his 2019 book Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, a book that has been interpreted in part as the antithesis of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers published a decade earlier and the 10,000 Rule outlined what he saw as the key to success in any field.

Perhaps Barty’s continued success can be another reminder that obsession in sports doesn’t always equate to elitism. Who would have thought that a simple movement from the hips could say so much.

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