Five Dangers of Single Sport Specialization

There is a common misconception that “single sport specialization” is positive for young athletes.  Many parents believe that early specialization in one sport increases the chances that their children will advance to collegiate or professional levels of play. Several recent studies have shown that early specialization can lead to early burn out and significantly higher reinjury rates, and that early specialization does not improve an athlete’s ability to play at the collegiate level.  

Find out why playing a single sport comes with a higher risk of injury, and what you can do to protect your child. At EmergeOrtho – Triangle Region, our board-certified, fellowship-trained sports medicine team is here to help ensure the safety and health of your child. 

Five Things You May Not Know About Sport Specialization

Single sport specialization is defined as participating in a sport for at least three seasons a year.  Research has shown that over specialization in youth sports commonly results in various injuries. In fact, According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), a study revealed that single-sport specialized high school athletes, no matter the sport, were more likely to report overuse injuries. 

While an athlete at any age is susceptible to sport specialization overuse injury, youth sports specialization injuries present a higher risk.  The bones, muscles, and ligaments of children continue to form well into puberty. Overuse of these still-developing muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and growth plates places a higher risk of injury. 

To better understand how to keep your child safe from the problems associated with sport specialization, take a look at the following five facts:

  1. Lower-Extremity Sports Have a Higher Injury Risk
    Studies have shown that most sport specialization injuries occur in those that repeatedly engage the foot, ankle, knee, and hip. 
  2. A young African American track athlete is sitting on the bleachers taking a break from running.Highly-Specialized Athletes Are at Greater Risk
    The previously mentioned study sponsored by the NFHS, revealed that highly-specialized athletes carried an 85% increased injury compared to a 50% increased risk of moderately specialized athletes. 
  3. Early Intervention Can Help Prevent Further Injury
    Potential symptoms that can occur when a child plays one sport can be pain, swelling, changes in form, and a noticeably decreased interest in his or her sport. The sooner these symptoms are addressed, the better the opportunity for intervention and healing. 
  4. Multiple Sports Can Help Strengthen Athleticism
    Research demonstrates that having your child participate in more than one sport and allowing routine breaks from his or her sport of choice, prevents injury and actually helps improve sporting skill sets. 
  5. Continued Participation When in Pain Should Never be Encouraged
    Although ‘pushing through the pain’ can sometimes be a phrase touted during sporting practices and events, the repercussions of doing so can be very dangerous. If your child shows signs of pain and discomfort, he or she should not be pushed to continue playing until seen by a sports medicine specialist. 

Protect Your Child from Single-Sport Overuse and Injuries

While the dangers of early sport specialization can lead to overuse and injury, there are steps you can take to protect your child, which include:

  • Encouraging your child to play more than one sport year round
  • Allowing breaks between sporting seasons
  • Limiting the number of sport specialization teams in which your child participates 
  • Monitoring the number of hours your child plays organized sports—the appropriate participation time should equal their age in the time period of a week—a 17-year-old should not play more than 17 hours of a specialized sport per seven-day week
  • Keeping eight months as the maximum time allotted for involvement in a single sport

Another step you can take to ensure the health and safety of your child when it comes to sport specialization is to consult with a sports medicine expert. 

Consult with Local, Fellowship-Trained Sports Medicine Experts

At EmergeOrtho – Triangle Region we offer sophisticated subspeciality orthopedics, including sports medicine. Our goal is to help provide education, guidance, and resources to make sure children of every age are protected from injury, and are able to pursue the sports they love— safely! 

To take advantage of individualized, high-quality care at a low cost, EmergeOrtho – Triangle Region is here to serve you and your family. If you would like to schedule a visit or know more about sports specialization statistics, information, and safety tips, call us any time at (919) 220-5255