Medically reviewed by:
Joe F. Cauble, MA, ATC
McLeod Sports Medicine, Athletic Training Coordinator
“It’s a HUGE positive for a high school player to be a multi-sports athlete. They tend to be more athletic, better leaders and better teammates.” (Major League Baseball manager)
“Playing multiple sports is better.” (Former NBA Executive of the year.)
“We like them cross trained. Stick with multiple sports as long as you can. People will see your tools.” (Coach of a College Baseball World Series winning team)
“Repetitive use of one set of muscles and joints while they are still developing can lead to overuse injuries, such as tendonitis or stress fractures,” says McLeod Sports Medicine certified athletic trainer Joe Cauble, MA, ATC. “We all want our children to succeed. Yet, never-ending engagement in a single sport at school, on traveling teams or with elite leagues may not be the best option for them. Participating in multiple sports and with several break periods a year will give their body’s bones, joints and muscles a better chance to fully develop.”
THE GROWING EMPHASIS ON SPORTS SPECIALIZATION
Until the turn of the century, most youth changed sports with the season – soccer in the fall, basketball in winter and baseball in the spring.
Then, Tiger Woods won the Masters Golf Tournament at age 21. Malcolm Gladwell published his book with the 10,000 hour rule – that practicing 10,000 hours is the “magic number” for gaining true expertise. The competition for college scholarships with the enticing “chance” of a professional career forces many parents to “do whatever is necessary”
PUBERTY: THE GREAT EQUALIZER
Certain sports benefit from early specialization, such as diving, gymnastics and skating where shorter legs, lower center of gravity and lower muscle mass are beneficial.
Yet, many youth, who excel as young as age 2 or 3 at soccer or baseball, tend to lose their physical advantage once the hormonal development of teen years kicks in. At this point, trying too hard to continue excelling can hurt their body. The increasing number of “Tommy John” elbow surgeries among younger and younger baseball pitcher offers one example of this trend.
Not changing sports and failing to take breaks from organized sports imposes unrelenting stress on tender, growing joints with no time for recovery.
Adults must be the guides on their children’s journey. A survey of “specializing” single-sport young athletes shows they like or love what they’re doing. Then again, young children might say the same about an unending pile of candy or ice cream without thinking about the long-term effects of overindulgence.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
Encourage and enable your child’s success. Keep an eye on their health. Some specialist suggest that you shouldn’t commit your child to a single sport until at least the age of 10.
If they take on a heavy sports schedule (and especially in a single sport), have an Orthopedic or Sports Medicine Specialist evaluate them regularly. If they show signs of muscle strain or limited mobility (possibly stress fractures), take them out of competition, see an Orthopedic specialist and follow his or her advice.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Academy of Pediatrics, Coaches magazine, 101 Ways to Be A Terrific Sports Parent, Washington Post, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine