A new study demonstrates rather conclusively that athletes who specialize in one sport are 70 percent more likely to suffer an injury during the season. Commissioned by the National Federation of High School Associations, the study adds still more ammunition to the argument kids should take time off from individual sports and/or also participate in different sports across the year rather than concentrate on just one.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health, the study focused on athletes who spent what was considered an inordinate amount of time on one sport – even to the detriment of relationships with family and friends. Declaring the study’s results as “striking,” the study’s authors found that specialized athletes suffered injuries at “significantly higher rates” than those who did not.
This is by no means the first such study to point to such problems. Every day it seems another study or media article emerges on the perils of single-sports stars.
- In 2014 the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine issued its own report, noting that sports specialization was leading to injuries and burnout amongst its practitioners.
- A study conducted by Ohio State University found that kids who specialized at one sport are less likely to be physically active as adults – indeed, these kids are often the first to quit.
- Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport was the single best predictor of injury, with athletes 70-93% more likely to be injured than players who engage in multiple sports.
Of the 1,544 athletes studied in the Wisconsin study, 40 percent of the females and 29 percent of the men reported specializing in one sport with soccer being the most specialized sport. Nearly 60 percent of the injuries were ligament tears in knees and ankles.
Study author Tim McGuine said such injures are the direct result of over-training in one sport, a problem that is becoming more commonplace as pressures increase on athletes to excel at one sport lest they fall behind their competition.
McGuine said specialized athletes who play and train year-round put more stress on specific muscle groups and their corresponding ligaments, tendons, and bones. The more the athletes practice and play, the greater the risk of injury.
“The more you play at any given activity the more likely you are to get hurt, just out of exposure,” said William Roberts, a practicing physician and professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota. “If you play club and high school sports, you play 10 to 12 months out of the year, that might be an exposure issue. For kids who play club and high school at the same time, it might be a fatigue issue.”
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding athletics. Many if not most athletes, along with their parents, believe specialization is critical if the kids are to go on and play at the collegiate level. But a 2013 study by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine debunks that belief, noting that 88 percent of college athletes were multi-sport athletes before college.
So what’s the answer? Play different sports across the year, especially those that will work other muscle groups.
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