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Effects of Sports Specialization on Children

June 27th, 2017

Should Children Specialize in Only One Sport?

child with wrist injury

They say practice makes perfect, but can too much practice be a bad thing? Many people believe it’s important to specialize in a single sport in order to excel. However, experts say that intense training and specialization at a young age can lead to higher rates of stress and injury.

Cause and Symptoms of Overuse Injuries:

Overuse injuries occur gradually when a certain activity is repeated often without allowing the body to heal. When a child participates in one sport only, he or she continuously applies stress to the same areas of the body which can lead to muscle imbalances and overuse injuries at the growth centers.

It is important for coaches and parents to watch for signs of overuse injuries to keep the problem from worsening. These include:

  • Pain which often increases with activity
  • Limp
  • Decreased speed or throwing velocity
  • Swelling
  • Changes in technique or form
  • Decreased interest

Common Overuse Injuries include Sever’s disease, Osgood-Schlatter disease, Patellar Tendinitis (also known as Jumper’s knee), Little league Elbow, and, stress fractures.

Overuse Injury Prevention

Many overuse injuries can be prevented with adequate rest in between activities and by involving children in a variety of sports activities. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers the following tips to prevent overuse injuries:

  • Limit the number of teams in which your child is playing to one per season.
  • Don’t allow your child to play a single sport year-round. Take breaks and play other sports to develop skills and muscle.

The America Academy of Pediatrics Offers these additional tips:

  • Avoid specializing in one sport until late adolescence.
  • Take 1 or 2 days off a week from preferred sport.
  • Recommend 3 months off per year from primary sport of interest.

Featured Physician: Teri Metcalf McCambridge, M.D.

Dr. Teri McCambridge specializes in pediatric sports medicine and has been named Baltimore’s Top Sports Medicine Pediatrician. Dr. McCambridge provides immediate counseling and treatment for athletes with many sports-related concerns including overuse injuries.

Learn more about Dr. McCambridge>>

Additional Resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Sports Health: Sports Specialization in Young Athletes
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Overuse Injuries in Children