athlete, behavior, school age, sports, teenager

Soccer, basketball, AND tennis? Multi-sport youth athletes do better overall

It’s hard to believe the fall sports season is already coming to a close. Now that you’ve endured the cool nights in the football stands or rainy afternoons at the soccer field, what does your student-athlete have planned for the coming months? 

Youth athletes: focus on one sport or diversify?

The great debate: nurture the next Serena Williams?

The debate about multi-sport participation versus the importance of honing one particular skill year-round is a point of contention in youth sports. Many coaches will argue their athletes should focus on developing sport-specific skills in the off-season to benefit themselves and the team. With young athletes though, especially before high school, specializing in a single sport has many downsides. Since there is only one in a million Tiger Woods or Serena Williams, data suggests participation in multiple sports has important benefits over specializing. 

Benefits of playing several sports throughout the year

1) Reduce risk of overuse injury:

            – Overuse injuries account for half of sports injuries in middle and high school. Injuries like little league elbow, shin splints, and shoulder pain in swimmers are all caused by repetitive stress that isn’t given adequate time to heal.  

Multisport youth athletics reduce overuse injury risk

            – Skeletal immaturity, inadequate rest time, and poor training and conditioning all can contribute to risk of overuse injury.

            – You can prevent or reduce the risk of overuse injury by adequate and gradual conditioning in the offseason, limiting participation to not more than 5 days per week, multi-sport participation with 2-3 non-consecutive months away from any one specific sport, providing adequate rest time when injuries do occur, and following new limit guidelines in youth sports such as pitching and contact drill limits. 

2) Lower risk of burnout:

            – Youth sports are meant to be fun ways to get off the couch, meet new friends, and get in your recommended 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day.

            – External pressure from coaches, peers, or parents combined with the internal pressure to succeed can result in kids not finding their sport fun anymore.

            – 70% of kids participating in sports dropout by the age of 14 with the top two reasons being specialization and professionalization.

Tips for parents to reduce the risk of injury and burn out

The following are recommendations for sports participation by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Let kids choose their sports goal and take time off to rest their bodies and minds
  • Delay sports specialization until at least age 15-16 to minimize risks of overuse injury.
  • Encourage participation in multiple sports.
  • If a young athlete has decided to specialize in a single sport, a pediatrician should discuss the child’s goals to determine whether they are appropriate and realistic.
  • Parents are encouraged to monitor the training and coaching environment of “elite” youth sports programs.
  • Encourage a young athlete to take off at least three months during the year, in increments of one month, from their particular sport. They can still remain active in other activities during this time.
  • Young athletes should take one to two days off per week to decrease chances of injury.

Elite athletes will still thrive

Even elite athletes are encouraged to work out ‘differently’ in their off season. Strengthening and flexibility for their sport is key but overall agility is emphasized in the off season even for the pros. With only 7% of high school athletes pursuing college sports and less than 1% participating in elite athletics, let’s focus on the team building, responsibility, and overall fun of youth sports without pressuring kids to be the next all star. 

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