when to specialize in a sport

Should Your Child Specialize in a Sport?

In a push to help their children become the best – insert sport here – player, many parents are quick to sign them up for year round travel teams and private training sessions. The question is, what is the best age to begin this specialization and professionalization of sport? If we were to ask world-renowned sports orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, I bet he would say much later than we currently are.

Why shouldn’t young children specialize in a sport?when to specialize in a sport

Dr. James Andrews is a strong proponent of giving young athletes time off to recover, stating “their kid needs at least two months off each year to recover from a specific sport. Preferably, three to four months.” Dr. Andrews goes on to state that there is an epidemic of adult-type overuse injuries, such as rotator cuff injuries and UCL tears (the injury that requires Tommy John surgery) in youth athletes across America, with children as young as 12 years old comprising almost half his patients. So while parents and coaches are pushing for younger and younger sport specialization, I’m here to ask you to please diversify your children’s after school activities and allow for proper rest.

How do you allow your child ample time to recover from sports?

While this can mean allowing a 2-4 month break from all sports, the emphasis here is on taking a break from each type of sport. For example, sports that focus on repetitive overhead movements include baseball and swimming, ones that require short bursts of explosive energy include basketball and football, and those that involve a combination of endurance and explosive bursts include sports such as soccer and hockey. Each of these types of sports has their own overuse injuries associated with them, so it is important to take a break from the whole sport subset rather than going from, say swimming to baseball. A great way to limit overuse injuries is to follow the seasonal sports, allowing for adequate time to rest between each sport and also during one season.

Won’t a break hinder my child’s progress in his/her chosen sport?

You may be worried that the lack of practice may hinder your child’s skill set, but many dual sport athletes have gone on to say that aspects of one sport-specific training have had a significant impact on their performance in an entirely different sport. For example, a football wide receiver may be able to draw from footwork gained during a previous soccer season. We can look to the NFL for living proof of this. Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks was a dual sport athlete at North Carolina State, playing football and baseball, even signing to a minor league contract prior to the NFL. Brandon Weedon of the Dallas Cowboys pursued a career in baseball, prior to enrolling at Oklahoma State and leading the Sooners to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl. Even LeBron James was a two-sport athlete prior to signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers the first time. So let’s stopping training our kids to become the next Tiger Woods, only to have them become one of Dr. Andrews’ statistics, and allow their growing bodies to rest as needed and diversify their skill sets along the way.

As a parent, you are your child’s biggest advocate. Now that you know the true dangers of early sport specialization please educate coaches and give your children the rest they need. For further information on overuse injury prevention in children, please contact our Pediatric Physical Therapists at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.