This is a follow-up to part one on youth sport specialization. If you haven’t read part one yet, you can do so here.
In this brief article, we will give you our top five tips to reduce the risks associated with youth sport specialization. If it is going to continue, why fight it? We would rather educate you, be a resource or central hub for you, and help our young athletes.
In part one, you learned that 54.7% of parents encourage their children to specialize in one sport. The reasons for this are hopes of their child playing high-level collegiate or professional ball.
You also learned that only 0.03% – 0.5% of high school athletes reach that goal. If there is such a slim chance of youth athletes making it to the professional level, why is there added stress placed on them at all?
Parents naturally want to expose their children to sports they are interested in or grew up playing. There is nothing wrong with that, at all. However, once the parent starts living vicariously through their child, pushing them too hard, degrading them for a poor performance, is when the problem starts.
This never leads to a good situation. This will slowly make your young athlete insecure, worried about making a mistake, and could ultimately lead to them not wanting to play.
Young kids have enough stressors with growing up. Parents and coaches shouldn’t add to this. Remember, youth sports are about socializing, learning different skills, finding their own joys and frustrations.
At this point, it is the job of parents and coaches to encourage their children. Teach them the game. If they play poorly, feel free to tell them! But, make it known that they will learn through their failures and help them improve. Don’t tell them they suck!
Encourage them to play different sports, different positions. Learn the fundamentals of the different games. If they love the sport, that will play a huge factor as they age.
Be their biggest fan.
At some point the myth broke out that strength and conditioning programs for youth athletes were bad. They would “stunt growth” or “increase injuries.”
Let’s put that to bed and let the research speak for itself.
First, we need to make this point VERY clear. Children need to be taught the proper form and technique from qualified professionals. If they start throwing heavy weights around without learning the technique, the movement patterns, injuries will happen.
Myth: Weightlifting is bad for children.
Fact: The research suggests that when children are taught how to properly complete the lifting movements, and work with a professional that implements proper programming, there are huge BENEFITS.
Second, it is very important to not add this ON TOP OF nightly sports practices and/or games. Working with a strength and conditioning professional to properly periodize your youth athletes’ program is extremely important.
It is the responsibility of the parents and coaches to look out for the well-being of the youth athlete. In part one we discussed the signs and symptoms of burnout and the effects it can have on the physical and mental well-being of young athletes.
They don’t know enough, and they aren’t emotionally mature enough to understand when their bodies have had enough. They don’t know the symptoms of burnout; they just know they don’t feel normal.
Who will they go to for help? Their parents and coaches. The dominant figures in their life. If they are looking for help, be sure they know you are always there for them, looking out for their well-being.
If you’re always hurt and can’t participate, what good does that do you?
This could easily change positions with our #1. In fact, it was sitting at #1 mere hours before this was posted.
What is proper rest and recovery time? It truly depends on the individual. What we would recommend is one full season. Now! Before people start to lose it on us, this doesn’t mean do nothing for 2-3 months. It simply means do not have three heavy seasons in a row. Have one season strictly devoted to body maintenance or preparation for your main sport.
For example, we highly recommend and are in favor of sport diversification. The way we view sport diversification is utilizing the skills of a second sport to improve your main sport.
Take a baseball player. They need a lot of hand-eye coordination. They also need to be able to move quickly on their feet; need to be agile. What sport has those qualities? Soccer comes to mind. Soccer players move swiftly on the field. They have great eye-feet coordination. Their fundamentals are a lot of ladder drills to work on speed and agility. The carry-over is great.
Again, you can develop skills to work on your main sport while giving your body the rest it needs. Soccer doesn’t involve the upper body or use of the arms. If your main sport is baseball, your arm is getting the rest it needs, while working on other aspects of the game.
Now, continuing with the above example. When winter rolls around, start training for your upcoming baseball season. Hit the weights, hit the mobility. Start stretching out the arm with some long toss a couple of times/week. Weighted balls to improve functional strength.
There are many examples of this. The table of cross-over sports that is in part one can be found below.
Finally, our #1.
As noted in part one, sport diversification refers to youth playing multiple sports to help develop enjoyment of the sport and finding the ones the sports they love.
As stated earlier, we are fans of diversification simply because it will decrease burnout rates (as long as they still have proper rest and recovery), decrease risk of overuse injuries, and develop true enjoyment of sport.
Viewing the table above, there are also huge carry-over benefits from one sport to another, so why not diversify when young? We actually recommend playing multiple sports throughout high school. However, there are other factors at play, dependent on your skill level.
Typically, recruiting doesn’t start until after your junior season. By senior year, if playing high-level college ball, you will be receiving offers. If that is the case, we would suggest specializing by sophomore year of high school, but only if you are being seriously recruited for a Division 1 scholarship.
This is the time when your body does start to mature, and your skills should be dedicated to one sport. Your training should be dedicated to that sport. Your body can likely handle it, or you are working with someone that knows what they are doing in regard to your training (necessary!!).
If you are going to play Division 3, that is truly for love of the game, so why not continue playing multiple sports in high school? Some Division 3 schools let you play multiple sports. Most encourage it!
In this short series, we hope to have shed some light and education on that risks involved with early sport specialization and what you can do to mitigate those risks.
While it may not be our recommendation, sport specialization is going to continue. It is our goal at MVMT Performance & Rehabilitation to educate and help people make the best decisions for themselves and their family. We want to keep you and your children in the activities they love.
We can be the central hub to help you maintain in-season, help you increase your performance off-season, and educate you on how to best take care of your body. If an injury does happen, we can take care of that too. And, if not us, we will absolutely help point you to the best resource.
1. Faigenbaum AD, Myer GD. Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(1):56–63. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.068098
2. Malina RM. Weight Training in Youth-Growth, Maturation, and Safety: An Evidence-Based Review. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 2006;16(6):478-487. doi:10.1097/01.jsm.0000248843.31874.be.
*This is helpful information, but it is general information. This is NOT medical advice. If you already have any injury, pain, tightness, etc., please seek help from a licensed and qualified healthcare provider like us, performance physical therapy in Green Bay. A complete solution for what you’re dealing with needs to be customized to all the different factors driving your pain, and those factors will be at least slightly different for each person. These strategies may help, but they’re not likely to be a complete solution for each individual reading this now or in the future.