Is Sports Specialization Dangerous for Youth Athletes?

Child playing soccer

There comes a point in every youth athlete’s life when it’s time to choose “your sport”. Whether they’re a recreational team player, or a state champion, life gets pretty busy juggling multiple sports and activities. But when is that time, and are there dangers to specializing too early or too late? Can we become a good athlete, but prevent injuries (thus avoiding physical therapy!) and burnout at the same time?

There are a few guidelines we can follow in order to help draw a line when too much is too much. Guidelines are in place in order to prevent acute and overuse injuries in children and adolescents. While younger athletes can often “bounce back” fast, more serious injuries can ruin a season before it even starts. Here’s a few things to consider when signing your athlete up for sports:

1. Avoid over-specialization by signing up for multiple sports in a year. Just like with any activity, repeating the same stressors over and over can make you more susceptible to injury. Stay active and stay involved by choosing multiple sports.
2. “Hours per age” rule. Your child should not train more hours of one sport per week than their numerical age. (Example: a 14 year old swimmer should swim less than 14 hours per week)
3. Limit practice to 1.5 hours per day, and competition to 3 hours per week.
4. Have 1-2 rest days from sport practice/competition per week.
5. Young athletes should have up 3 months off per year, in 1 month increments of a break from organized sport.
6. Focus on form and technique before intensity.

Appropriately managing activity volume, and knowing when to take an injury seriously is hard work. Communicating with your primary care provider, pediatrician, coaches, athletic trainer, or physical therapist when something doesn’t feel right can be a useful tool to ensuring season-long success.

But most importantly, sport should be fun!



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