The Road to College and Beyond

Keeping Healthy Is a Competitive Advantage

If your young student athlete is showing talent and enthusiasm for a specific sport, it is very tempting to go “all-in” on the one sport as soon as possible, especially if there are aspirations to play in college and professionally. Parents are faced with many opportunities and decisions on how to help their athlete perform at their best and achieve their goals – including club sports, personal coaches, camps and more.

This can lead to specializing in one sport at a very early age.  Sport specialization is intentional and focused participation in a single sport for a majority of the year that restricts opportunities for engagement in other sports and activities.

Parents often get the message that early specialization is a pre-requisite to advancing to those higher echelons of the sport, however, that is not necessarily the case. When athletes specialize too early, or engage in excessive play, they are increasing the probability of significant injury and reducing the chances of achieving their goals. It has been estimated that the United States spends as much as $5.2 billion per year on injuries related to sport specialization.

As youth athletes navigate to the sport of their choice at an older age, it will likely benefit them physically, mentally and emotionally to play multiple sports and avoided overtraining.  In fact, according to Trackingfootball.com, more than 85% of those drafted during the 2020 NFL draft were multi-sport athletes.

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) supports the following recommendations as they relate to the health and well-being of adolescent and young athletes:

  1. Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible:  Adolescent and young athletes should strive to participate, or sample, a variety of sports. This recommendation supports general physical fitness, athleticism and reduces injury risk in athletes.
  2. One team at a time: Adolescent and young athletes should participate in one organized sport per season. Many adolescent and young athletes participate or train year-round in a single sport, while competing in other organized sports simultaneously. Total volume of organized sport participation per season is an important risk factor for injury.
  3. Less than eight months per year: Adolescent and young athletes should not play a single sport more than eight months per year.
  4. No more hours/week than age in years: Adolescent and young athletes should not participate in organized sport and/ or activity more hours per week than their age (i.e., a 12-year- old athlete should not participate in more than 12 hours per week of organized sport).
  5. Two days of rest per week: Adolescent and young athletes should have a minimum of two days off per week from organized training and competition. Athletes should not participate in other organized team sports, competitions and/or training on rest and recovery days.
  6. Rest and recovery time from organized sport participation: Adolescent and young athletes should spend time away from organized sport and/or activity at the end of each competitive season. This allows for both physical and mental recovery, promotes health and well-being and minimizes injury risk and burnout/dropout.

Sports specialization is an evolving health issue in adolescent and young athletes. Current evidence shows an association between sports specialization and overuse injury in athletes as well as an impact on mental health.  While current literature has paid more attention to the physical and mental aspect of sports specialization, the psychosocial implications of young athletes continue to be a concern. If you have access to an athletic trainer, reach out to them to ensure that planned sports participation and training is setting your athlete up for health and success with their sports goals.

For more information, visit: www.atyourownrisk.org.

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