Sarah Walls, a personal trainer and owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc., is the strength and conditioning coach for WNBA’s Washington Mystics and has worked with a number of Division I programs.
Early sport specialization and overuse can put young athletes at greater risk of injury.
There is this notion today that people think kids should only be focused on one sport and train like crazy to become good at it. Yet more and more research is showing that at a young age it’s not wise to specialize and risk overtraining. Kids can become better athletes by engaging in a variety of sports.
Once parents know the risks of early specialization and overuse injury risks, they usually encourage their child to diversify and cross train. The problem is that most parents are not aware of these risks. They have been led to believe that their child needs to pick a sport at the age of five and stick with it. When this happens, many kids experience overuse injuries, and they end up being burned out and leaving the sport all together by the time they reach adolescence.
Here’s what I share with parents with regards to sport specialization injury concerns:
- Great athletes are often the product of well-rounded physical development (kids playing lots of different sports and rotating each season).
- Children involved in sports that are single-sided (like baseball and golf, as examples) should be balancing out the asymmetries that develop by engaging in other sports or a strength/conditioning program designed with those considerations.
- Young athletes who specialize in one sport too early (before age 15) can be/are prone to overuse injuries.
- If a child is experiencing regular aches and pains, they should be given a break from the activity and encouraged to engage in play or a different sport entirely.
- Children are experiencing injuries that previously were only seen in adults – for example ligament tears and tendonitis.
- Early sport specialization problems are compounded by the sedentary and desk-bound nature of our society. This leads to further movement pattern dysfunction, muscle imbalances and, eventually, even more injuries.
- Avoid allowing your child to specialize in one sport before age 15. Trust that well-rounded physical development through a variety of sports and activities will serve your child’s sporting ability and health over time. Ensure your child is maintaining a balanced body by having him/her participate in a sports conditioning program and/or a variety of sports and activities.