three basic skills: double leg jumping and landing; hip hinges; and single-leg hops. “We need to be proficient with these movements for life in general,” he says, “and beyond proficient as athletes because sports load and stress the body for prolonged periods of time.”

He says athletes who are adept at these basic movement patterns are less likely to experience injury. “Properly trained athletes don’t have to think about the movement, their bodies will just do it,” Shirokobrod says.

Strength training is also essential, and Nessler emphasizes the importance of proper technique and training. “It’s one thing to squat 300 pounds, and another to squat 300 pounds the wrong way, with your knees collapsing in, setting you up for an ACL injury,” he says.

He’s a fan of strength training at the end of practices, when muscles are fatigued. “If athletes can keep their limbs aligned properly when they are tired, they’re going to hold up in a game or long practice,” he explains.

Beyond rest, basic movement skills and strength training, Nessler also emphasizes nutrition and hydration. “I have high school athletes keep a nutrition log for me,” he says. “Most of them have terrible diets and it’s key that they eat and drink to help with tissue repair.”

Bonner appreciates her girls’ coaches’ attention to this. “They are very rigid about what they eat, when they eat and proper hydration,” she says. “I think it really helps with their recovery.”

The mental game

Another danger zone of single-sport specialization is mental burnout. This is something Dr. Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon at Westchester Medical Center in New York, sees all the time. “Parents need to be aware that when their kids don’t get breaks from their sports, many of them turn off,” he says. “Yet sports are so important to development. We learn how to work in groups, how to move and how to take direction.”

Shirokobrod says this mental stress is why it is important that training is age specific. “For a long time, we trained kids like scaled-down adults,” he says. “Kids need to have fun and learn through experience.”

He breaks up young athletes into age groups: 6-10, 10-14 and 14-17. “The youngest athletes are very susceptible to herd mentality,” he says. When these children identify strongly with their team and then friends move on, the fun leaves the equation. They lose interest or burn out.

This is the real tragedy, Luks says. “Parents start the ball rolling and then coaches take it to a higher level,” he says. “We want to do the things that keep kids in sports because active youth tend to be active adults.”