Should Your Child Specialize in One Sport?

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Orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. Robert Hartzler was interviewed this morning by WOAI Radio on safety guidelines for youth sports. Check out the full interview here:

A recent study found strong evidence to support the idea that young athletes should diversify – playing more than one sport, rather than specializing in only one sport. The study determined that young athletes (between the ages of 7 and 18 years) who specialized in only one sport were 1.5 times more likely to sustain an injury and 2.3 times more likely to sustain a serious overuse injury than their more diversified counterparts.

According to Dr. Hartzler, “For most kids it is now recommended to avoid specializing before late adolescence. Most kids in most sports are well served by being a diversified athlete and playing more than one sport.” The reason for this is that younger athletes are still growing their bones and developing their muscles. Putting too much repetitive strain on certain areas of the body without developing others can lead to overuse injuries. “Baseball pitchers, for example, put a very high level of stress on the medial collateral ligaments of the elbow and the shoulder, and over time, those structures will become damaged.

In addition to diversification, it is important to remember that young bodies need a recovery period. A good rule of thumb is that a young athlete should participate in sports no more hours per week than their age in years (i.e. an 8 year old athlete should participate in sports no more than 8 hours per week).

Some other tips to reduce your young athlete’s risk of injury include:

  • Avoid specialization in a particular sport until after puberty. 
  • Take 1-2 days off from sports per week to allow the body and mind to recover.
  • Take at least 1-2 weeks off between seasons.
  • Take at least 2-3 months off from a specific sport during the year.
  • Encourage free play to develop other areas of the body.

HartzlerDr. Robert Hartzler is an orthopedic surgeon, fellowship trained in sports medicine and shoulder and elbow surgery, with The San Antonio Orthopaedic Group. He treats patients aged 6 years and up for any sports-related injury with a special focus on conditions of the shoulder and elbow. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hartzler, please call 210.281.9595.

NOTE: We cannot provide medical advice or diagnoses without seeing a patient in person.

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