Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Want to Double Your Kids' Chance of Injury? Have Them Specialize in a Single Sport

It's been a while since I wrote about the connection between sports specialization and the increase in youth injuries ("Aristotle, Virtue & the Youth Sports-Injury Epidemic," "Kids and Sports: How Young is too Young? How Much is too Much?," "Overuse, Not Curveballs, Hurts Young Arms"), but a recent series on youth sports in the San Francisco Chronicle ("Injuries Exploding as Youths Focus on One Sport") has once again highlighted the dangers of youth specializing in a single sport. To be sure, there are benefits to specializing. It "can sharpen skills and even set young athletes on the path to scholarships and college success. But it also means more repetition, more strain and more injuries." To wit:
Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle school and high school students. Specialization is a logical culprit. A report this year by the sports medicine department at Loyola University of Chicago found that "kids are twice as likely to get hurt if they play just one sport as those who play multiple sports."
The exponential increase in youth sports injuries has led the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine to help launch StopSportsInjuries.org, which is a website devoted to educating parents and youth about sports injuries.

A related problem is burnout. It is not uncommon for kids to dedicate themselves to one sport starting at a very young age, and then reach their junior or senior year of high school and not want to play anymore. Or, I am aware of instances where they had actually earned scholarships to Division I programs and decided they no longer enjoyed playing ("On Athletic Success").

One of the sources quoted in the article encourages young athletes not to specialize until they reach high school. Personally, I don't think they should specialize until college (if they get that far: less than 1% of high school athletes get a Division I college scholarship and only about 5% go on to play sports in college). Kids bodies develop at different rates, and they may not excel at a particular sport until "late" in their careers (e.g., I played college baseball with someone who went to college on a golf scholarship). But, if they've already given that particular sport up, they'll never know.

Bottom line: Encourage kids (1) play as many sports as reasonably possible (we don't want their parents to be run ragged); (2) take breaks from every sport they play in order to avoid injuries from overuse; and (3) don't specialize until college. It's pretty simple.


  1. It is a good thinking that the children must be guided to one play only because of the injury threats but the children must be allowed to take part in any sports as physiotherapist is there to help the parents.

  2. This is an interesting take on sports injury. I hadn't considered overuse as a key contributor to this, glad to know about it. Concise piece as well.