Many youth athletes play and participate in one singular sport for their whole lives, or for a vast majority of their childhood. In terms of development in that given sport, is this good? Not necessarily. Participating in a single sport for youth athletes brings in concerns of burn out, overuse injuries, and lack of development for the athletes.
Burn out can be defined as “a spectrum of conditions that include overreaching and overtraining” (2). Overtraining would fall in line with the premise of early sport specialization for the given athlete in a very negative way. The psychological component that is involved with burn out needs to be addressed and taken into account. For many young athletes, participating in the same sport over and over again may not be an enjoyable experience and this will ultimately drive burnout. Data does suggest that these athletes who experience burn out at a young age are those that play only one sport and have been doing so for a majority of their childhood.
An injured athlete is not a good athlete, this is a statement I have been adamant on and will continue to stand by every day. So why do parents and coaches keep pushing athletes to levels beyond belief and levels in which injury risk is very high. Youth sports is a challenging atmosphere, sport coaches preach that soccer players cannot play hockey in the winter, as an example and vice versa, but why are coaches continuing to pursue singular sport development when research and data suggests otherwise. Being well diverse, playing multiple sports at young ages and specializing in one sport towards the later years of high school, needs to be pushed upon kids more than just playing one sport. Athletes who specialize in singular sports are anywhere from 1.5 times to 3.5 times or greater, more likely to experience injuries than athletes who do no specialize in one sport (3). In order to create the best athletes, the athlete cannot be injured. This is an area that needs improving and this comes from coaches, parents, trainers, therapists, etc. We as an industry working with youth athletes, we cannot keep pushing athletes to levels in which injury is highly likely to occur, we need to bring athletes away from injury and aid in their development to perform at levels in which they can achieve.
LACK OF DEVELOPMENT
The idea that a given athlete needs to play one sport for their best development is wrong and this needs to be fixed. An athlete who plays one sport their whole life, is in no better position to excel in that given sport than an athlete who plays multiple sports over their childhood and youth years. Enjoyment of a sport and intrinsic motivation will predict how well an athlete progresses, meaning the more an athlete enjoys playing a sport and enjoys participating, the greater the chances the athlete will have success, in no way does this tie back to playing only one sport (3). A study involving professional athletes in regard to how they plan to develop their children, showed that only 22.3% of professional athletes would want their child to be specialized in and play only one given sport. (1). In terms of development, most certainly is it better for athletes to be exposed to multiple stimuli and to be in varying environments both for athletic development and the social parameters involved.
The ideas of burn out, overuse injuries, and lack of development in playing a singular sport need to be spoken about more and need to be further discussed with youth athletes. It is important as professionals who work with youth athletes, that we stay most informed, in order to educate, and provide the best possible service to athletes and clients. It is even more important to stress the need to be a well diverse youth athlete who participants in multiple sports for the purposes of avoiding burn out, injury prevention, and to create the best possible development plan.
What we do today makes our body better for tomorrow.
Until next time,
Michael Silvestri, MS(c)
- Buckley PS, Bishop M, Kane P, Ciccotti MC, Selverian S, Exume D, Emper W, Freedman KB, Hammoud S, Cohen SB, Ciccotti MG. Early Single-Sport Specialization: A Survey of 3090 High School, Collegiate, and Professional Athletes. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine 5: 232596711770394, 2017. doi: 10.1177/2325967117703944.
- DiFiori JP, Benjamin HJ, Brenner J, Gregory A, Jayanthi N, Landry GL, Luke A. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports. Clinical journal of sport medicine 24: 3–20, 2014.
- Jayanthi N, Pinkham C, Dugas L, Patrick B, LaBella C. Sports Specialization in Young Athletes: Evidence-Based Recommendations. Sports Health 5: 251–257, 2013. doi: 10.1177/1941738112464626.