The temptation is strong, and for some parents, it’s irresistible.
The thinking might go like this: My 10-year-old is tearing it up in Little League. If he plays 12 months a year instead of three, he will improve faster and have a better chance of earning a college scholarship and signing a big professional contract.
It’s apparently a popular thought. Fading into misty memories are those days when the football hero also starred on the basketball court and the baseball diamond, according to a report, “Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes,” which was published in August on the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It is “less common now to have a multi-sport athlete in middle or high school, because the norm has become for young athletes to specialize in a single sport at younger ages,” says Dr. Joel S. Brenner, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, in the report. “There is increased pressure to participate at a high level, to specialize in one sport early, and to play year-round, often on multiple teams.”
But is it a good idea? Specialization may help athletes reach specific goals, but it should be delayed until after puberty, age 15 or 16, the report says. Before that, specialization can do more harm than good.
Katie Cameron, head swimming and diving coach at Bryant University in Smithfield and the mother of two young children involved in sports, isn’t a fan of specialization at a young age. She notes that kids develop at different points in their lives “based on growth, maturity,” and their exposure to sports and coaches.
Focusing on one sport at an early age might mean that a young athlete never discovers a sport he or she really loves. Skills developed in one sport may also complement skills required in another.
“In my opinion, it’s best if we expose our young athletes to a large variety of sports so they are aware of what is out there and what suits their personal interests,” Cameron says.
Cameron also worries about burnout and injury from overused muscles, a concern shared by Dr. Brett Owens, a sports medicine surgeon for University Orthopedics and father of four young athletes.
“The early focus on a single sport can result in both emotional burn-out as well as the potential for overuse injuries,” says Owens.
“The upper extremity intensive sports such as gymnastics and baseball can be most challenging for year-round participation,” according to Owens. “The one we have most data on is baseball, where pitchers who pitch too much, too young can sustain overuse injuries that can derail their careers.”
The report from the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that “if the timing is correct and sports specialization is performed under the correct conditions, the athlete may be successful in reaching specific goals.”
But all athletes need time to rest and recover. The report notes that young athletes should take off at least three months a year, in increments of one month, from “their particular sport of interest.”
That doesn’t mean they need to spend their down time on the couch or playing video games. They “can still remain active in other activities to meet physical activity guidelines during the time off.”
The link to the report is here.
— Is there a sports parenting topic you’d like to read about? Join the conversation by sending Jack Perry your ideas and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.— email@example.com(401) 277-7614; On Twitter: @jgregoryperry