Early Specialization and Professionalization in Youth Sports Leads to Overuse Injuries
The spring is one of the busiest times of the year for youth sports. For many families, this is a great time of year, filled with fun, exercise, team camaraderie, the development of new skills and popsicles after the games. However, it’s a dangerous time for kids under the supervision of overzealous parents and coaches. The current trend in youth sports is professionalization — young athletes increasingly being treated like mini-professional athletes. In addition, the proliferation of club teams and travel teams as early as nine years old has spawned a troubling trend: early specialization in a single sport.
Young athletes are being asked, and sometimes pressured, to specialize in one sport before they hit puberty. The reason is parents who envision college athletic scholarships and/or Olympic or professional glory. A growing industry of youth sports entrepreneurs — personal trainers, sport-specific instructors, club sports administrators, etc. — is preying on these parents with dreams of athletic glory for young Dustin or Madison. Their marketing pitch? “I can help your son or daughter get an athletic scholarship.” Never mind that the odds of high school athletes getting an athletic scholarship are less than one percent. The saddest part of this whole professionalization scenario is that kids growing bodies are getting beat up in the process.
According to an article in the New York Times titled, “A Warning on Overuse Injuries for Youths,” “… young athletes are still growing mentally and physically, and so are vulnerable to certain injuries, some of which can compromise growth.”
The article goes on to note that “the American Academy of Pediatrics has said the goal of youth participation in sports ‘should be to promote lifelong physical activity, recreation and skills of healthy competition’ — not the hopes of obtaining a college scholarship, or making an Olympic or professional team.”
The article also notes that the National Athletic Trainers’ Association recently issued a position paper with a list of recommendations for protecting the health of our young athletes, including “that children take time off between sports seasons and, if they do participate in a single sport year-round, that they take breaks from the sport of two or three nonconsecutive months each year.”
For the full article: A Warning on Overuse Injuries for Youths
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- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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