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Does Early Sport Specialization Increase Risk of Injury?

Author: CHKD Sports Medicine
Published Date: Wednesday, June 07, 2017

By: Christopher Blais, DPT, CSCS

Sports specialization is defined as intensive, year-round training in one sport while eliminating participation in other sports. Over the past 20 years, specializing in a single sport has become increasingly popular at the high school level, and is now gaining interest and attention in youth sports during the early to middle childhood years. This focus on specialization at such an early age has parents asking: Can early sport specialization increase my child’s risk of injury?

Research has shown that year-round participation in a single sport can put an athlete at increased risk of injury due to the repetitive nature of sport-specific movements. These frequent, repeated movements can cause microtrauma, or overuse injuries, to various structures of the body including the growth cartilage, potentially affecting normal growth of the bone. In a 2013 study, 54% of injuries in athletes from age 5 to 18 were a result of overuse. Nearly 60% of those injured athletes specialized in one sport, making them 36% more likely to suffer an overuse injury than the multi-sport athletes.

Sport specialization has not only been shown to put your physical health at risk, it may also affect your mental health. Involvement in a single sport that requires extensive hours of practice and travel time often reduces the opportunities these children have to spend with their peers and participate in other recreational activities. This can slow social development and promote over-dependence on their sport that can lead to burnout - a loss of motivation and mental and physical exhaustion.

Why should your child play multiple sports?

  • They will achieve better overall skills and abilities from increased development of the neuromuscular system.
  • It could increase their chances of playing at an elite level. The majority of athletes that play at the college level, as many as 88%, were multi-sport athletes in high school.
  • It will improve their social development, creativity and confidence - traits that coaches look for at higher levels.
  • They may discover they have more talent and affinity for a different sport they may not have otherwise had the chance to develop.
  • About CHKD Sports Medicine

    CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.