Why Your Student Shouldn’t Play the Same Sport Year-Round

teenager girl playing soccer kicking ball

Longer playing seasons, sports camps, and the popularity of travel teams have made it possible for children to play one sport all year long. In addition, many well-meaning parents and coaches may encourage a child to start specializing in one sport at an early age, reasoning it can raise the chances of earning a college scholarship or even a professional sports career. A closer look at recent research shows this may not be the best path. 

Research shows early sports specialization is risky. 

  • A Loyola University Chicago study of 1,200 youth athletes found that kids who specialized in one sport were 70 to 93% more likely to be injured than multi-sport athletes.
  • Doctors are seeing an increase in repetitive use injuries, such as ACL tears, rotator cuff issues, and elbow injuries. 
  • A survey of college athletes by the American Society of Sports Medicine found that 88% of college athletes played more than one sport when they were kids.
  • A study published in the journal Sports Health found that for most sports, there is no evidence that intense training and specialization before [age 13 or 14] are necessary to achieve elite status. 

“Performing the same movements and using the same sets of muscles, bones, and joints over and over lead to what we call overuse injuries,” says Dr. Zach Smith, a board-certified sports medicine doctor with LeBauer Sports Medicine in Greensboro, NC. “Growing bones and cartilage in children and teens are less resistant to overuse, so they can develop injuries more quickly than adults.”

Smith and his colleagues, Dr. Michael Rigby and Dr. Jeremy Schmitz, say they are seeing more overuse injuries in youth such as stress fractures, tendinitis, bursitis, apophysitis (inflammation at the end of a bone, such as “little league elbow”) and knee issues. Previously, these types of injuries were rare in children. 

Help your athlete prevent overuse injuries.

Parents can follow these four guidelines to help their child or teen avoid overuse injuries. 

Take Time Off

One or two days a week should be designated for rest. Young bodies actually perform better when they have time to recover. Also, be sure your athlete takes a break from a sport for at least two consecutive months out of the year. 

Try a Second or Third Sport

Playing multiple sports throughout the year instead of a single pursuit not only reduces the risk of injury but it also often makes for a happier athlete. You’ll avoid the risk of your child feeling burned out, and they’ll be exercising a different set of muscles and joints. 

Pay Attention to Discomfort

Remind your child to speak up about any pain or discomfort right away. Also, if you notice your child asking for a pain reliever, changing their usual stance or pattern of play, or wanting to avoid practice, it could be a sign of an injury. It’s better to address a possible injury right away than to take a “wait and see” approach. 

Follow Age-Appropriate Guidelines

Experts recommend that you use a child’s age as a guide for how many hours a week they spend playing a sport. For example, an 11-year-old shouldn’t spend more than 11 hours a week in practice and play. 

Youth Sports Safety Checklist for Parents

Get Our Complete Sports Safety Checklist

Get more tips for preventing youth sports injuries, including concussion prevention, with our complete checklist: Keeping Your Kids Safe During Sports: A Checklist for Parents. Download your free checklist now.

 

Need Help for a Sports Injury?

Drs. Smith, Rigby, and Schmitz offer comprehensive sports medicine care at three Greensboro locations. Children, teens, and adults have access to expert diagnosis, treatment, injury-prevention plans, and concussion care. Request an appointment with our online form or call the location of your choice.

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