By Ken Reed

Young athletes, ages 10-14, are often putting in more time on their sport than professional athletes do.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Ron J. Tucker, who’s done a plethora of ACL knee surgeries on young athletes, says the paradigm has changed from kids growing up “playing” sports to becoming professionalized athletes.

Pick-up games, where kids organize the action by calling all their friends and telling them to meet in the park in a half-hour for a game, have been replaced by super-organized adult-driven youth sports leagues and tournaments. Kids that show some talent for a sport are pressured by coaches, parents, league administrators, sport trainers, etc., to show “commitment” by specializing in a single sport.

As a result, Tucker is seeing a lot more repetitive stress injuries in young athletes. These type of injuries were once quite rare in children.

Once again, as is the case with virtually every contemporary sports issue, the reason for this problem is WAAC and PAAC: win-at-all-costs and profit-at-all-costs mentalities.

Youth sports are now big business. More and more adults are making their livings off of kids playing games. And a lot of these adults are pressuring kids to specialize in a single sport in order to excel and earn college scholarships — and maybe pro sports riches. This despite evidence that shows that specialization is counterproductive to those very goals.

“Counter to the prevailing notion that early specialization is key to a pro career, studies show that future elites actually practice less on average in their eventual sports than near-elites and that most U.S.-born big leaguers play multiple sports through high school,” wrote Alexandra Fenwick in a September 1, 2014 Sports Illustrated article in which she interviewed David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Epstein contends that the research shows that elite athletes typically play multiple sports in their youth.

Studies show that kids who specialize in a single sport before age 16 experience more overuse injuries, more emotional burnout (often resulting in the child giving up the sport completely), and have less time for family activities. When you add on the fact that kids that specialize in a single sport don’t have a better chance of becoming an elite high school athlete that earns a college athletic scholarship, the question becomes “Why are we doing this to our kids?”

The answer may just be that what we’re doing collectively as parents in the United States when it comes to youth sports is a case of cultural insanity.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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