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Single Sport Specialization – “intense training in a single sport to the exclusion of others should be delayed until late adolescence to optimize success while minimizing risk for injury and psychological stress.” – N Jayanthi , et al Sports Health 2013
Our children are getting injured at alarming rates. They are burning out from sports they previously enjoyed. They are even giving up playing all sports in general. By any measure, these are not the outcomes that we had hoped for when we dedicated so much of our time, money and effort toward making our children elite in their sport. But this is the result we are getting. Overuse injuries, once unheard of in the young athlete, are now commonplace. Some of these are easy to fix: tendinitis, knee cap pain, shin splints. But some are not: ACL tears, UCL injuries of the elbow (Tommy John) and premature arthritis.
Single sport specialization, focusing on one sport, year round without varying the sport and often times with additional coaching and multiple team play, is at the root of this problem.
Excelling at your sport doesn’t just happen. It results from a number of factors. Among these are: overall athleticism, the will to practice, maintaining good health and the desire to participate over a long period of development. Single sports specialization, at too young an age, has been shown to adversely impact all of these. As a result, it often promotes failure – not elite status.
Numerous studies have shown that participating in multiple sports enables better athletic development. To that end, many collegiate coaches prefer multi-sport athletes. Additionally, most elite athletes participated in more than one sport for many years before specializing.
At a young age, we all enjoyed diversity in our activities. Very few of us enjoyed doing the same thing for hours at a time, every day, let alone all year. Your kids are no different than you. To many, this schedule becomes monotonous and leads to stress, burnout…and quitting.
Likewise, using the same muscles and joints every day, without rest, causes breakdown of our body and leads to many injuries, some devastating.
So in our effort to make our kids the best at their sport and earn the ultimate rewards, the extremely rare scholarship and the even more unlikely, pro contract, we are often doing more bad than good. Once again, we are hampering their athletic development. We are causing many to dislike and quit their sport. And most concerning, we are causing them unnecessary physical harm. Very few of you would want this for your kids, let alone want to be be responsible for it.
In this installment of our Two Boneheads Series, Dr. Howard Luks and I, two sports medicine orthopedic surgeons, with over a combined forty years of experience caring for your children, discuss this topic, touching on the issues I mentioned above as well as others. Whether you are a coach, parent or a young athlete, please listen and give some thought to your role in promoting this phenomena. If you have additional thoughts or questions, please let us know.
Dr. Luks and I are dedicated to helping all children avoid these unnescessary injuries. Not until we are no longer operating on your kids as result of overuse and single sport specialization, will we be satisfied.
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