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  • Writer's picturecreativerehabpt

Sport Specialization in Kids: Is It Worth It?

Teen and pre-teen sports have become intensely competitive over the years and the only way for kids to succeed is to pick one and only one sport to do year round. While being active during adolescents is strongly encouraged, specializing in one sport can actually cause pain and potential injury. Performing the same sport year round at a competitive level causes repetitive wear and tear on pre-teens' and teens' growing bodies. About half of the injuries in young athletes are due to overuse. There are two main issues that make year round sports potentially dangerous to growing children- growth spurts and lack of cross training.

Kids can have growth spurts seemingly overnight. When this happens, the bones grow longer but the muscles do not instantly get stronger to support the new structure. During this time of imbalance, a kid's posture may be more slouched or they may be clumsier than normal. This change is because they cannot fully support themselves. Their strength eventually returns to support their new height. This process continues until the end of growing - females 14-15 years old, males 17-18 years old. If a pre-teen or teen is playing sports at a competitive level during a period of growth it causes them to be more unstable which creates an opening for potential pain, strain, or injury.

The lack of cross training or full body multidirectional (forward/backward, sideways, and rotation) strengthening can similarly cause an injury or pain with the repetitive stress from sports year round. There are sports teams that perform strength and conditioning workouts but they are still working in the same direction as the sport. Just like any activity for an adult- too much of any one motion is a bad thing. Children and adolescents need a balance of motion and strength in different directions to create better, well rounded strength. This better prepares the body for unexpected movements and protects from possible injury.

So no more year round sports? No! Kids can continue to benefit from year round sports but would benefit more from cross training during the off season and having a balanced, multidirectional strengthening routine for off season and during the season to prevent pain and injury. In addition, sport specialization should be avoided prior to the age of 12 years old according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Avoiding sport specialization and adding a functional strength and mobility program will help prevent injuries and pain for teens and pre-teens. A physical therapist can create this type of program tailored to your child and their sports needs!

Source: "Intensive Participation in a Single Sport: Is It Good or Bad for Kids?" 7/25/2022

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