Sports Specialization in Youth

A lot of parents today are asking about when their kid should start to play sports and if they should specialize in just one sport or play multiple; my answer to that is start them whenever they feel ready and do not specialize! Now with that being said, there are exceptions to this rule, especially when it comes to specialization. Physiologically speaking, it is much more optimal for youth to participate in multiple sports for many reasons such as increasing overall fitness capabilities, teaching them new lessons, injury prevention, and so on. However, if you find that your kid doesn’t care for other sports and only wants to participate in one sport such as basketball, then let them play the one. Let the kids decide how they want to play and what they want to play. They are the one participating after all.

Some things to keep in mind as a parent when it comes to youth sports is injury prevention, how much pressure you put on them, and the kids future. According to Statistic Brain, most kids don’t care about the scores or outcomes of a game, some don’t even want their parents to attend the games, and the most important thing is that they just want to play the game. Whether it is football, basketball, athletics, and any other sport. They just want to go out and have fun. Joel Brenner MD, MPH had actually gone into great detail about adolescent athletes and overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in his article “Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes.” Up to 50% of all youth injuries are related to overuse which can from participating a lot in one sport; such as pitchers and having increased risk for medial epicondylitis or swimmers and increased likely hood of shoulder injuries.

When I was a high school athlete, I had specialized in long distance running. I did however play the occasional basketball game with friends or in my physical education class. Even in my early 20’s I did the same when I was first getting into powerlifting. I had specialized and it lead to inability to do other types of training or even everyday activities because it left me tight and very one dimensional athletically. When you participate in multiple sports as a youth, you become very multidimensional not only physically but mentally as well. Your child will get to experience a lot more diverse situations by doing multiple sports thus growing and learning how to think using more than one type of mindset.

We can talk about exercise physiology when it comes to youth athletes for hours though but in the end, the kid is the one playing the sports, so the most important thing is to let them have the freedom to choose new sports and try something new. They may grow up playing baseball and basketball but by the time they reach high school, they might want to participate in Track and Field and because of the multidimensional foundation the other sports have created, they could have they ability to attack this new sport with more focus and greater ability. Perhaps even be better than an athlete that had only run their entire youth. With this being said though, be mindful of the pressure you put on them and they put on themselves. Too much pressure is never a good thing. Also be mindful of how many sports they are participating in at a time. Play season by season, I would not suggest doing two or more sports at one time unless it is the high school level or above. If that is the case such as the two sports seasons over lapping, then make sure time between the two is managed accordingly to avoid overtraining.

Resources

  • Statistic Brain: Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, Athletic Footwear Association, USA Today Survey, Michigan State
  • Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes Joel S. Brenner, MD, MPH, and Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness

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