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Monday, July 1, 2013

Sports Specialization

Specialization in youth sports has become a common practice among young athletes. However, opinions vary on whether it is in the best interest of the athlete to specialize in one sport. The most common reason athletes choose one sport is to become the best in the one sport in order to earn a college scholarship. The problem with specialization is the overuse injuries which are developing as a result of playing one sport and the adverse effect it is having on youth.

It is possible for some outstanding athletes to receive a college athletic scholarship, but it is not reality for most athletes, according to the NCAA, very few, in fact. According to recent statistics...
...about 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded athletics scholarships to compete in college. This small number means high school student-athletes and their parents need to have realistic expectations about receiving an athletic scholarship to play sports in college. Academic, not athletic, achievement is the most reliable path to success in life.

Overuse injuries have also increased with specialization. One-sport athletes tend to do repetitive drills leading to overuse injury. According to one of the largest clinical studies in specialization, athletes who specialize in one sport and train intensively have a significantly higher risk of stress fractures and other severe overuse injuries, even when compared with other injured athletes. When athletes play more than one sport, different muscles are used. If the same muscles are being worked over and over, injuries occur. Overuse injuries were typically only seen in individual sports, however it has now become a factor in team sports. Baseball pitchers are a good example of athletes with repetitive injuries in a team sport.

Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, Loyola University Medical Center sports medicine physician, released some recent findings and recommendations for preventing these overuse injuries. Young athletes were more likely to be injured if they spent more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spent in unorganized free play. One of the recommendations is young athletes should not spend more hours per week in organized sports than their ages. Some other tips by Dr. Jayanthi includes:
  • Do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence.
  • Do not play sports competitively year-round. Take a break from competition for 1 to 3 months each year.
  • Take at least 1 day off per week from training in sports.
Specialization in sports is not going to be eliminated, but some of the adverse effects can be prevented. Along with following some of Dr. Jayanthi's tips, coaches need to have proper knowledge for instructing correct sport techniques along with training and conditioning programs. If an athlete is only playing one sport, proper training in how to work all muscles must be taught. One way to ensure athletes are getting proper instruction is by having a physical therapist and certified athletic trainer available. These medical professionals can play a valuable role in organizing coaching clinics, teaching strength and conditioning principles, and instructing injury prevention programs.

Specialization has become a part of society which will not decrease and can have an adverse effect on young athletes. The best way to handle these adverse effects is through proper education and utilizing knowledgeable people who understand the problems of specialization.

Contributed by Tiffany Hammond, a Certified Athletic Trainer of eleven years with KORT and adjunct instructor at Indiana University Southeast. Hammond graduated from the University of Louisville with a bachelor's of education in exercise science and sport medicine and a master's degree in sport administration.


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