Early sport specialization and year long sport has become a major problem for our young athletes. There are many reasons and justifications for this by parents, coaches and administrators as there is a perceived success for those who do specialize early. Some are unaware of the detriment to their athletes bodies and some just choose to ignore what they see and hear. Athletes can achieve success in their careers even when starting to specialize as late as age of fifteen.
There are both physical and psychological negatives to the early specialization of young athletes. Overuse injuries and burnout are the most common, which lead to early retirement. By the age of thirteen 70% of adolescent and child athletes will have dropped out of their given sport or activity. By encouraging and registering them in a cross spectrum of sports benefits include an increase of joy, talent and the use of the full body.
By involving your child in sports that involve the full body, you decrease the likely hood of overuse injuries. Repetitive strain injuries such as Osgood-Schlatter, Sever's disease, Little League Elbow, tendinosis, and stress fractures are all linked to excessive repetitive motions and repetitive training cycles. Gymnastics, diving and figure skating are the only sports to show some benefit with early specialization due to their use of periodization. Graded increases in activity, are the most beneficial for the physical and skill development of athletes. Rest both during the season and off season, is imperative to keeping young athletes engaged and injury free.
The long term effects of overuse injuries can be seen in the number of baseball players especially pitchers in both the college and professional levels who are suffering ulnar collateral ligament sprains. The philosophy of no pain, no gain has long been shown detrimental in both coaching and conditioning realms. By engaging in multiple sports different parts of the body and brain are engaged, making turning the child into a better overall athlete. People marvel at college athletes who compete and excel in more than one sport. What we should be doing is using them as an example of how non-specialization actually leads to success.
By allowing our young athletes to engage in more than one sport and delaying specialization we will create not only better athletes but better adults as well. By reducing overuse injuries and burnout at the younger ages, athletes will continue on being active throughout their adult lives. That is true success over medals and accolades.
Resources used for this post
Overuse injuries and burnout in youth sports: a position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, DiFiori et al; Br J Sports Med 2014;48:287-288
Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents, and Coaches - Based on My Life in Sports Medicine, Dr. James Andrews