(June 2020) Youth sports have surged across the country, and a weekend drive around Eastern Shore ballparks proves we’re part of that trend. By all accounts, the physical, mental and emotional benefits of individual and team sports are well documented. From a sports medicine perspective however, this boom in youth sports has raised some alarm: increasing “sport specialization” at a young age means an increase in youth sports overuse injuries, too.
Doesn’t My Child Need to Focus on One Sport?
Sport specialization has been defined as “year-round intensive training in a single sport, at the expense of other sports.” Some parents reading this may be skeptical , as conventional wisdom suggests young athletes determined to “up their game” as they age will fall behind if not working consistently on their skills. However, a quick dive into current research reveals some surprises: (1) most players in Division 1 athletics did not pursue early specialization, (2) baseball pitchers from colder climates that do not throw year-round tend to excel over those from warmer climates, and (3) early specialization may actually decrease the likelihood that an athlete will reach an elite level.
Furthermore, studies find overuse injuries consistently linked with the following risk factors: (1) a high level of sports specialization, (2) playing their sport for more than 8 months of the year, and (3) playing their sport for more hours per week than their age.
Tips to Prevent Youth Sports Overuse Injuries
Most overuse injuries can be prevented with proper training and common sense.
- Learn to listen to your body and listen to what kids are telling you.
- Remember that “no pain, no gain” does not apply here.
- These young athletes are not just little adults. They have growing bones and soft tissues and are susceptible to different types of injuries.
- Follow the 10 percent rule. In general, you should not increase your training program or activity more than 10 percent per week. This allows your body adequate time for recovery and response.
From a parent’s perspective I want my kids to enjoy playing sports –and to soak up the character traits and teamwork skills that healthy competition offers. From my former athlete perspective, I know the value of hard work in reaching their greatest potential. But all of us as parents can agree in the goal of safety first and foremost. Nothing is achieved when our children are sidelined with preventable injuries.
The debate over single sport injuries is likely to grow along with the options and enthusiasm for youth sports overall. I encourage parents and coaches to learn more – some great resources can be found at the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine website, www.sportsmed.org.
Dr. Savage received his MD from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, followed by residency at the UAB Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He is Board Certified and Fellowship Trained in Sports Medicine.