Dangers of Youth Sport Specialization
Remember the David Winfield’s? The Bo Jacksons? Remember the three-sport athlete? There was a time where athletes only played football during the fall, basketball during the winter, baseball was only played during the spring and summer seasons, and every other sport participation tied into their respected seasons. It was a time where youth athletes were forced to place their bodies under a variety of physiological demands stemmed from multiple sport participation. This resulted in proper development of their neurological and muscular systems with minimal asymmetries and imbalances due to overuse movements.
Then Anders Ericcson published a paper in 1993 presenting the world with the “10,000 hour rule” where he stated that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in order to master a skill.
In the decade to follow, parents began making a shift towards specializing in a single sport in hopes that their child will master thee sport and go on to become professionals.
But…at what cost?
It has been well documented in sports science research that children are very adaptable – both physically and mentally. Scientists constantly state that emphasis that youth physical development be focused on mastering fundamental movements and overall biological development before specification (1). Allowing a child to experience various training stimuli that can later have a positive impact on physical performance and health-related issues.
Youth sport specialization are only exposing their bodies to one constant stimuli. See it as sports are asymmetrical (over usage of one component such as a quarterback’s throwing arm, a baseball/softball player’s rotation in a swing, or a soccer player kicking with the dominate leg), the youth athlete begins creating biomechanical dysfunctions that are escalated with the onset of puberty.
Individuals may argue with the concept of “jack of all trades, but masters of none”. However, the need to be a physiological jack of all trades is the prerequisite towards the ability to master one.
You need to be able and agile in all directions before mastering the 100 meter run.
So how much harm does sport specialization do for youth athletes?
Look at the research:
“Sports injuries are the second leading cause of visits to the emergency room for children and teens” (2)
“Children ages 5 through 14 make up 40% of sports related injuries treated in hospitals.” (2)
“Overuse is the main cause of injury in young athletes, and makes up about half of all sports injuries.” (2)
The number one risk factor of overuse injuries in children?
“Sport specialization at a young age” (3)
With research proving the risks involved with sport specialization at a young age. It is critical that youth athletes’ engaging in a single sport undergo a tailored strength and conditioning program aimed at developing proper kinematics that are sacrificed through the repetitive motions of a single sport. The youth strength and conditioning coach should fixate on development of the child’s motor control, neuromuscular system, and proprioception awareness.
Youth athletes’ lacking this component, risk continuous chronic injuries throughout their adolescent years.
- Lloyd, R., & Oliver, J. (Eds.). (2014). Strength and conditioning for young athletes science and application. New York, New York: Routledge.
- McFadden, M. (2014, July 30). Increasing injuries in young athletes. Retrieved from http://www.wndu.com/news/specialreports/headlines/Increasing-injuries-in-young-athletes-269264321.html
- Kids’ Sports Injuries – the Numbers are Impressive. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/kids-sports-injuries-numbers-are-impressive
Coach Adamek is the head strength and conditioning coach at Magnus: Expand Human Potential, a leading fitness facility located at CourtSense in New Jersey. He has worked with a number of Professional, Olympian, and top collegiate athletes as well as countless top junior’s in the world.