By Ken Reed

The trend toward specialization in youth sports continues unabated. This despite a lack of evidence showing specialization improves athletic performance. In fact, the limited research available in this area tips the scale the other way: Kids that specialize in a single sport at an early age have less athletic development than do their multi-sport peers.

“You rarely see someone who played only baseball all the way through go on to have a successful career in the big leagues,” says Eric Cressey, of Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts. Cressey believes you need to be a good athlete before you can be a good baseball player. Sports specialists suffer from a lack of athletic development, according to Cressey.

There’s another problem with sport specialization: It leads to more overuse injuries.

“We know it (specialization) leads to more injuries,” says Cressey. “The more kids play (a single sport), the more they get hurt before they turn 18.”

For example, according to a Sports Health review done in 2012, young baseball pitchers who throw more than 100 innings per year have 3.5 times more injuries than those who pitch less. Moreover, pitchers who throw more than eight months a year are five times more likely to require elbow or shoulder surgery. The results were similar for young people specializing in other sports.

Another issue with playing one sport basically year round is emotional burnout. Too many kids become burned out from the seemingly never-ending practices, personal training sessions, and games that they just quit their sport.

“I’ve always endorsed kids playing multiple sports,” says John Graham, CSCS, who operates the St. Luke’s Sports and Human Performance Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “It’s better for them from a physiological standpoint. The kids who play multiple sports become better athletically.”

We need more medical professionals, researchers, trainers, coaches and parents spreading the anti-specialization message.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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