Kids that specialize in a specific sport often play year-round on traveling teams or in tournaments, which is leading to more sports injuries. These athletes tend to engage in high levels of exercise for long periods of time, wearing down the body until an injury occurs. Stress fractures, torn muscles, and ligament tears are becoming all too common. Young athletes who engage in hours and hours of intense activity per week are the most likely to be injured.
Should I allow my child to specialize in a specific sport?
Yes, at a certain age. Sports parents often think that if their child doesn’t play as much as possible they will fall behind and won’t earn or keep their starting position. Instead, parents should actually limit the amount of time their children spend participating in intense physical activity. Specializing in a certain sport means more and more time on the field, forcing a young athlete to repeat the same athletic motions with the same parts of the body, causing fatigue and injury. However, playing a variety of sports allows a child to use different parts of the body in different ways, and they can rest between seasons.
Children under 15 should play numerous sports
Athletes should wait until at least age 15 for sports specialization, which means children under 15 should participate in multiple sports. These young athletes should be exposed to different sports in order to learn different skills and spend time with a new group of players, helping them become more social. Different sports work out different muscle groups, and it’s important to train all parts of the body instead of focusing on one particular muscle group.
It’s not just about physical exhaustion, however. Sports are also a mental game, and keeping the mind fresh is often tough when playing the same game over and over. Playing numerous sports reduces the risk of “mental burnout.” Playing the same sport every single day for months and months, without an end in sight, can lead to the athlete becoming dispassionate about his or her favorite sport.
Allow for recovery time during the week
Kids need to recover just like adults need to recover, but kids often have engines that won’t quit until it’s too late. In a year, younger athletes should take a total of three months off, and it should be done in one month increments. However, they also need to rest and heal during the week by taking off one or two days in a seven-day period. Taking a small break from sports activity each week decreases the chances of injuries, both minor and major.
Take time off after the season
Some kids are so involved in numerous sports that they jump from one sport to the other without taking time in between. Seasons often overlap and some players go from one sport to the next on the same day, leaving no room for healing. It defeats the purpose of playing multiple sports so the body can rest between sports. After each season, encourage your child to take some time off to decompress before starting the next athletic adventure.