More than 30 years ago, the high school three-sport athlete was a common find. Boys played football or soccer in the fall, basketball or wrestling in the winter and baseball or tennis in the spring. Girls followed in the same spirit with swimming or volleyball, then winter basketball or gymnastics, and spring track or softball. The summer sports were extensions of their high school season sports and athletes were less likely to get injured.
These days however, high school athletes are encouraged to specialize into one sport. There are rare circumstances where the top athletes in high school programs around the country flourish in more than one sport, despite the athlete’s talent. Coaches push them to pick and choose and fill their teams with the like. But with children starting in competitive sports teams at the age of 7 or 8, when should kids pick a specialty sport and focus on only one competition?
Collegiate recruiters will tell you that specialization should take place in the middle school ages, but does a 12 year-old really need to quit baseball for a short season of wrestling? Parents play a large role in how, what and for how long their children continue in their competitive arena. Cost, time and transportation seem to be the biggest factors that help direct an athlete into the right sport. Traveling sports are a must to compete at most high school programs, offering a higher competitive level than traditional park district programs.
However, the repetitive use of the same movement patterns in playing only one sport can cause injuries. Tennis movements and drills compliment the strength patterns created by basketball drills. This helps the body build better balance and reaction time.
According to Dr. David Geier, a sports medicine specialist, "In general, I think that playing a variety of sports can be beneficial for young athletes. Ideally I would rather have them play one sport for one season, then switch to another sport for the next season, and so on. Changing sports every few months can limit the amount of repetitive stress that each sport places on that athlete’s body. The key is to pick sports where the stresses on the body differ."
1.35 million kids a year have serious sports injuries according to Safe Kids Worldwide, who based their research on hospital emergency room reports from 2012.
Sprains and strains, fractures, contusions, abrasions and concussions top the list of sports-related ER diagnoses for kids ages 6 to 19 — at a cost of more than $935 million each year, according to a report out Tuesday from the non-profit advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide.
How many sports are your children competing? How do you decide the best number of hours per week for your child to succeed?