How to Create Well-Rounded Young Athletes

We all want to create well-rounded athletic children, and can do that by avoiding early sports specialization.

child athletes

As a parent, orthopaedic surgeon, coach, team physician and fitness advisor, I keep up-to-date with the latest on youth sports. After all, it is my job! There is a lot of chatter these days, backed by research on having children avoid playing the same sport all year. Having a child play various sports throughout the year can help to avoid injury, become a better athlete and even get a better “look” while being recruited by college coaches. As we all know, it’s never too early to start thinking about that.

Dr. Lyle Micheli, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Boston Children’s published an article this month, September 2015, in Sports Health on Sport Specialization. Sports specialization is defined as training in a single sport greater than 8 months per year and eliminating participation in all other sports to focus in that one sport. In the increasing competitive atmosphere of youth sports, children are being pressured by coaches, parents, themselves, and teammates to engage in intense training programs in a single sport.

READ MORE: How to Avoid Playground Injuries

It increases the risk of serious overuse injury. Chronic pain in the front of the knee (patellofemoral pain) can be a result of single-sport training in athletes in basketball, soccer, and volleyball. Year-round overuse injuries in baseball and tennis occur by teaching certain skills too quickly and too frequently. In baseball, a slider, forkball, and screwball should be taught at age 16 or later. In tennis, the kick serve should be taught later to avoid back hyperextension and shoulder rotational injuries. Young gymnasts suffer from wrist overuse injuries more prevalent during higher volume and intensity of training, especially during growth periods in their bodies.

Heavily specialized youth athletes have higher rates of burnout and depression. Research has shown that adolescents need to be happy playing their sport to continue to succeed. They tend to be more motivated by how they feel playing their sport rather than how many wins and losses they had during the season. Swimming, tennis and hockey all have supporting studies that early, specialized sports training leads to a quicker path to quitting that sport. Don’t let their sports interfere with normal social development and allow children to be silly, goofy and fun with their friends.

AND IF ALL OF THAT MEDICAL JARGON DID NOT CATCH YOUR ATTENTION—RECRUITING! Coaches look to have a well-rounded athlete. Playing the same sport 12 months a year at an intense level may limit the potential of the athlete. Creative athleticism occurs when a child plays for example—basketball and lacrosse. Defensive moves and explosiveness in basketball can create an advantages while learning defensive plays and increasing speed in lacrosse. Many coaches look to have well-rounded, enthusiastic and fresh athletes.

So take a step back and see what your child’s sports schedule looks like for the year—as soon as you get your head above water with starting the school year!

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