Sports play an important role in many children’s developmental years. Participation in athletics can help children learn motor control, patience, teamwork, listening skills and the benefits of hard work. In 2018, data shows 52 percent of kids aged 6 to 12 participated in team or individual sports. Data from 2008 shows 27 percent of youth athletes specialized in one sport.
Sport specialization is defined as year round training in a single sport, excluding other sports. There are trends today that suggest many young athletes are beginning sport specialization prior to high school. Many young athletes are turning toward sport specialization with a goal of achieving elite success. Recent suggestions and recommendations advise athletes to avoid sport specialization before adolescence. These recommendations to avoid sport specialization are aimed at keeping young athletes healthy and preventing injuries.
Why Play Multiple Sports?
Participation in multiple sports can improve coordination and muscle control. Performing a variety of movements, such as during varying sports, can help developing athletes gain proper skills. These skills may provide prevention against injury. For example, baseball players are required to run (sprint), overhead throw, squat, and lunge during play. In contrast, soccer players are required to run (longer duration with sprinting included), kick and pivot. Therefore participation in both baseball and soccer would place different demands on a young athlete’s musculoskeletal system.
Growing athletes benefit from the development of all the components of neuromuscular control such as endurance, power, strength, agility, speed, flexibility and stability. Underdevelopment of any of these areas can lead to deficits or asymmetries within the athlete, which may place them at increased risk of injury during future sport participation.
In addition to allowing for better development of the musculoskeletal system, participation in multiple sports can avoid overuse of any one muscle group. If we use the example of the baseball and soccer athlete again, participation in both sports can allow “rest” for certain muscles groups when involved in the other sport (ex: the shoulder and arm used to throw in baseball get a break when playing soccer). This rest can help to avoid overuse injuries in a young athlete.
Tips on How to Avoid Overuse Injuries in Youth Athletes:
- Emphasize skill development and fun during sports
- Avoid sport specialization until at least puberty
- Limit specialized training to less than 16 hours per week or do not exceed hours per week greater than the athlete’s age
- Incorporate rest days into the routine
- Try to schedule months during the year where the athlete takes a break from their sport or participates in another sport
The Benefits of Staying Active
Participation in multiple sports is beneficial for developing adolescent athletes. Overall, it is important to remember that sports participation provides many health benefits at all ages.
If you feel you or your child has suffered a sport related injury, schedule a free assessment at an Athletico clinic near you.