As a former collegiate athlete myself, I try to keep the athlete’s best interest at heart. With the recent recommendations from the AMSSM and AOSSM, my job as a sports medicine physician is to help educate athletes, parents and coaches about the dangers of sports specialization at a young age.
According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018, athletes who specialize in a single sport are 81% more likely to experience an overuse injury. However, multi-sport athletes have less potential for injuries, burnout and have a higher likelihood of scholarship opportunities at the college level.
Studies suggest that early sports specialization engages frequent repetitive movement, which leads to higher stress in muscles, ligaments and tendons. In a growing child, this is a perfect storm for injury patterns to develop. This in turn leads to burnout and decreased athletic performance.
How to prevent burnout and overuse injuries:
- Limiting repetitive movement in sport and training, for example, high pitch counts during practice and games.
- Preseason conditioning programs and 2+ hours a week in injury prevention training can reduce the risk of injury.
- Plan on periods of isolated and focused integrative neuromuscular training to enhance diverse motor skill development and reduce injury risk factors.
- Ideally, give yourself two consecutive months/year away from the specialized sport to allow the body to recover.
- To reduce the likelihood of burnout, emphasis should be placed on skill development rather the competition or winning.
Multi-sport athletes tend to be better athletes and have the potential for collegiate scholarships and professional contracts. Encourage your athlete to have fun, and remember: If they are not, they may be suffering from burnout or an overuse injury.