Variety Does a Young Athlete Good

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If your children focus on just one sport, they run an increased risk of burnout and injury.

Here’s what you can do to keep them strong and safe.

Sports specialization is a major trend among today’s youth, not only in South Florida but around the country. Data shows that almost 55 percent of American parents encourage their children to focus on one sport. Usually, this encouragement is tied to dreams of the child participating in college or professional sports, according to American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

While research has shown that specialization doesn’t necessarily increase the chances of your child going pro, it does increase the odds of something else — and that’s the child’s injury risk. Focusing on one sport often has a child repeating the same motions and using the same muscles, which leads to some muscles becoming overused and other muscles becoming weak.

“Early on, some research indicated that sports specialization might increase a child’s odds of going pro,” says Dr. Stephen Henry, a physician at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute. “But over time, we’ve learned that it leads to a lot of overuse injuries from repetitive motion. In fact, some estimates indicate that 40 to 50 percent of all athletic injuries are due to overuse.”

Specialization in South Florida

Examples of this trend are easy to see in South Florida. Baseball, for example, is incredibly popular here, and kids can play it all year long. The result, says Dr. Henry, is an overuse of the arms, particularly among young pitchers. “We tend to see a lot of elbow and shoulder injuries, including pulled and torn tendons, as well as fractures of underdeveloped bones,” he says.

Other popular sports for specialization in South Florida include soccer, basketball, gymnastics and volleyball. “These sports can predispose athletes with poor neuromuscular control to develop ligament injuries. Lower extremity injuries such as torn ACLs, strained or ruptured Achilles tendons and ankle ligament injuries are common among these kids,” says Dr. Henry.

Strategies to prevent injury

Fortunately, injuries from sports specialization don’t have to be a foregone conclusion.

Dr. Henry says that one of the best approaches is for kids to choose a second sport, one that works muscles that aren’t getting a workout from the first sport. Essentially, young athletes improve neuromuscular control by participating in two sports.  “Track and football or baseball, or soccer and swimming are great combinations,” he says. “If you look at the pros, you’ll see that most of them focused on more than one sport earlier in their lives. This allowed them to carry over learned skills to the primary sport”

In addition, exercises to strengthen the core and hips are also helpful for many athletes to keep them strong and prevent injuries. Exercises such as squats, planks, sit ups, crunches and side bridges are all great choices.

“If you’re worried about your child’s injury risk, your best bet is to go see a sports medicine specialist,” says Dr. Henry. “We can assess the child’s risks and prevent injuries before they occur. Plus, it’s covered by health insurance, so the visit is usually low-cost.”


Wyatt Myers  is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.