Early Specialization in Sports – Good or Bad?

Posted on September 17, 2014

In our highly competitive and driven society, many kids are now participating in one sport all year long without a break and doing it at younger and younger ages. Some parents feel that if their child doesn’t specialize early on, they have no chance at excelling in the future and hopes of a scholarship will be lost. While some kids are passionate about one sport and do excel when training this way, there are many factors to consider that greatly affect the mental and physical health of our kids.

Five negative things that can be associated with early specialization:

  • Single sport athletes account for >50% of overuse injuriesPhoto of child on a soccer ball
  • These athletes are often inactive as adults as result of burning out as teens
  • A study found that single sport athletes were 70 – 93% more likely to be injured than their multi-sport peers
  • High risk of burnout due to the stress and pressure of playing a single sport
  • Female single sport athletes may be at higher risk for knee pain and even ACL tears

How do you fight the negatives of specialization and keep your child healthy and happy?

  • Before age 12 – 80% of their time should be spent in deliberate play and in sports other than their “chosen” sport
  • Age 13-15 – 50% of time should be spent in “chosen” sport, 50% should be spent performing other athletic endeavors
  • Age 16+ – Specialization is more appropriate for this age group but 20% of time should still be spent cross training in a different sport

Photo of kids playing baseballEvery child is different but on the whole, kids need time spent playing and pursuing multiple different sports to enhance their learning and motor development. Often the stress and pressure associated with early specialization causes the athlete to drop the sport before a college scholarship or professional dreams can come to fruition. Make sure your child can still be a kid and encourage their passion and love of sports! Being active is a life long journey with the ultimate goal of health and happiness!

-Erin Bell PT, DPT

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