By: Mike Lambert, SPARC Specialist

Many kids are beginning to specialize in sports at an early age. The competition is becoming much greater in youth sports and the idea to specialize young to gain an advantage on the competition is becoming more and more popular. Unfortunately, focusing on one sport at an early age can often do more harm than good.

The first major problem with specialization is injury. A common fear is that parents don’t want their child playing another sport in fear that they might get hurt and not be able to compete in their primary sport. In reality, playing one sport all year long will make kids more susceptible to injuries. Playing a variety of sports will make your child a better athlete and therefore, better at their primary sport. By specializing too young, movement patterns learned through a variety of sports may not be developed leading to weaknesses years later. The other problem is overuse injuries. Kids who perform the same movements over and over again all year without off-seasons are much more likely to suffer overuse injuries. For example in overhead sports like baseball and volleyball, the elbows and shoulders become overworked if they don’t have an off-season to rest. Tendonitis in the knees can also develop in sports like basketball or volleyball where there is a great deal of jumping. This may not be a major injury but can really hinder performance.

Another major problem with specialization is burnout. Kids who play multiple sports will usually still have a favorite sport, but they get to look forward to that season while playing other sports. If a child plays the same sport day in and day out, season after season, the joy they get from their favorite sport diminishes as it begins to feel like work. The dangerous part of this is it may not happen right away. It could take years. They may not experience it until they go off to college. This is a sad thought and one I know all too well—playing a sport year after year, reaching your goal of playing in college, and then becoming burnt out after achieving your dream.

Let kids become well-rounded athletes, play many different sports, or have a season where they don’t play any organized sports. They will be much more excited when there sports season comes around again. Let kids be kids. Sports should be fun and enjoyable and not made into work.