Sports Specialization: How much is too much?
Sports specialization is becoming more and more of a common practice. Sports specialization is when young athletes plays only one sport per year or heavily favors the participation in one sport over another. For example, sport specialization in Hockey would mean you don’t only play on your school team, but you play in the summer and fall on a club team and maybe a month out of the year you play baseball, but you still are participating in pick up hockey games, when you have time.
This is sports specialization, and it is becoming all too common in adolescent athletics. It has been said that adolescents who do specialize in a sport are twice as likely to be injured, and half of those injuries are overuse injuries. Overuse injuries ARE Preventable. From camps, to the traveling and school teams, it is easier than ever to play one sport year around. “Participation has increased overall and the sports have become more serious, more competitive at an earlier level, so there are many more year-round athletes than there used to be and many more single-sport athletes,” said Martin, who is director of sports medicine for Wake Forest University athletics and team physician for the Winston-Salem Dash minor-league baseball team. “Kids playing the same sport year-round have no off-season, and this type of early specialization leads to more stresses and more overuse injuries than you normally would see.”
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) has a policy statement which “discourages from specializing in a single sport before adolescence. Young Athletes should be encouraged to participate in a variety of different activities and develop a wide range of skills.”
Not only does participating in the same sport increase your rate of injury, but it has been shown that individuals who participate in many different sports as a young adolescent end up have better skills when they decide to specialize later in life. Doing different sports and activities helps your body learn to move in different ways and increase different skills, like balance and agility, which in turn increases your athleticism, and who doesn’t want that?
So, how much is too much?
Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, a Loyola University Medical Center sports medicine physician, offers the following tips to reduce the risk of injuries in young adults:
- Do not spend more hours per week than your age playing sports. (Younger children are developmentally immature and may be less able to tolerate physical stress.)
- Do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play.
- Do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence.
- Do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one-to-three months each year (not necessarily consecutively).
- Take at least one day off per week from training in sports.
Loyola University Health System. “Intense, specialized training in young athletes linked to serious overuse injuries.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130419132508.htm>.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Sports medicine specialists make pitch to prevent overuse injuries in young athletes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130924090546.htm>.
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