Athletics have always been competitive, but in recent years it seems that sentiment holds true at younger and younger ages. And while children may really love one specific sport, oftentimes its parents that are pushing their child to specialize in one sport or play one sport year round. There are some benefits to single sport specialization at an early age, but there are also some disadvantages for your physical health that we want to point out. In today’s blog, we look at the benefits and drawbacks of early sport specialization.
The Benefits Of One Sport Specialization
One sport specialization may seem like it’s the best way for your child to be better than the competition. After all, if they are only playing that sport and they play it year round, they should have a wider skill set than someone who plays multiple sports. That is true to an extent. Your child will have more opportunities to hone certain sport-specific skills, but that doesn’t mean that more practice time automatically makes them a better player than someone else.
Kids develop differently, others pick things up quicker or go through growth spurts sooner. More time practicing a specific sport doesn’t mean they will be the best at that sport, although they may have a leg up with some sport-specific skills compared to the average opponent. There is a slight advantage to the sport-specific skill set you’ll develop if you specialize in just one sport that’s worth pointing out, but that minor advantage likely doesn’t outweigh the potential drawbacks.
The Drawbacks Of Single Sport Specialization
Speaking from a physical therapist’s point of view, there are a number of potential drawbacks that parents and children should be aware of if the child is going to be specializing in one sport at an early age. Even at the high school level when college scholarships are on the line, multi-sport activity can be extremely beneficial. Here’s a look at some of the reasons to be cautious of single sport specialization and why you should consider multi-sport activity when you’re young.
- Develop Different Muscle Groups – This is one of the biggest reasons why you should consider playing multiple sports when you’re young. If you’re only playing one sport, you’re only going to be challenging the same muscle groups. While this will make some sport-specific muscles stronger, other muscle groups can get overlooked. This can lead to muscular imbalances that put you at risk for injury. Also, muscles and skills that you develop in other sports can be useful in your main sport. That’s why you’ll see NFL players taking yoga classes or baseball players swimming laps at the pool in the offseason. Partaking in other activities can develop overlooked muscles and serve to make you a better athlete.
- Give Your Body A Break – Playing one sport year round means that your body never gets the time off it needs. In Minnesota, the weather oftentimes makes it hard to play the same sport year round, but we’ve also worked with many young athletes who play basketball or soccer year round at indoor arenas. Your body needs time to rest and recover after a season. If you don’t give it this time to heal, you’ll be at risk for overstress injuries like muscle tears, ligament strains or stress fractures.
- Burnout Potential – Studies have shown that athletes are more likely to suffer from burnout and psychological fatigue if they only participate in one sport or play that sport year round. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and taking a break can let an athlete relax and look forward to a future season instead of eventually resenting the never-ending stream of practices and games.
- Multi-Sports Leads To Better Athletes – Perhaps the biggest reason why you should rethink single sport specialization if you really want your child to get that college scholarship or thrive in one sport is because multi-sport athletes have a better track record of success. A study of international athletes that examined when they began specialization found that elite athletes played multiple sports during their developmental years (age 11 and under). Near-elite athletes specialized at a younger age. The study concluded that waiting until an athlete reaches physical maturity could be more likely to result in elite status. Similar results were found when looking at Olympic athletes. A study found that Olympians averaged three sports from ages 10-14, and two sports from 15-18.
So if you really want your child to thrive in athletics, and if you want to reduce their likelihood of needing to visit a physical therapist for overuse injuries, consider having them play multiple sports and giving them plenty of time off between seasons. For help with an injury or sport-specific training, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today.