By Ken Reed

Proponents of early specialization for young athletes are finding it harder and harder to support their case.

In a three-year longitudinal study at Loyola University in Chicago, highly specialized young athletes (focused on one sport for more than 8 months a year) had a 36 percent increased risk of suffering a serious overuse injury.

That’s not all. Besides the safety and health risks of specialization, playing more than one sport, at least through the early teenage years, had performance benefits long-term. Multiple studies on skill acquisition and development show that elite athletes in all sports (at the college-level and beyond) don’t specialize in their younger years, or specialize later than their peers (mid-to-late teens).

Kids who play a variety of sports at younger ages transfer learned motor and anticipatory skills to other sports. As a result, they take less time to master the sport they ultimately choose as their priority.

I’ll leave the closing argument in this case to writer David Epstein who analyzed the latest research in this area: “The heightened pressure on child athletes to be, essentially, adult athletes has fostered an epidemic of hyperspecialization that is both dangerous and counterproductive.”

Your honor, the defense team for “Playing Multiple Sports” as a young athlete rests its case.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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