Kids who participate in a variety of sports are more likely to benefit from lifelong physical activity according to a clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Researchers also noted that children, who specialize in a single sport at a younger age, are at a higher risk for overuse injuries from training as well as increased stress and burnout.
In its report, “Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes, “the AAP reviewed patterns of youth sports and found the culture has changed dramatically over the past 40 years.
"More kids are participating in adult-led organized sports today, and sometimes the goals of the parents and coaches may be different than the young athletes," said lead author Joel S. Brenner, MD, FAAP, past chairperson of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
"Some are aiming for college scholarships or a professional athletic career, but those opportunities are rare," Dr. Brenner said. "Children who play multiple sports, who diversify their play, are more likely to enjoy physical activity throughout their lives and more successful in achieving their athletic goals."
The AAP suggests that kids participate in several sports and delay specializing in one particular sport until late adolescence. The academy also advocates banning the practice of ranking athletes nationally and recruiting for college before they reach their late high school years.
About 60 million children age 6-18 participate in organized sports annually, according to the 2008 National Council of Youth Sports. Of those, about 27 percent participated in only one sport, the council found. Increasingly, children specialize in one sport early and play year-round, often on multiple teams. By age 7, some participate in select or travel leagues that are independent of school-sponsored programs.
About 70 percent of children drop out of organized sports by age 13, research shows.
While there are a variety of reasons why kids may choose to drop out of sports, Brenner believes stress may play a role.
"One reason could be pressure to perform better and lack of enjoyment due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of playing time," Dr. Brenner said.
During the recent Olympic games in Rio, sports such as figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics and diving gained international attention and praise. There is no doubt that these remarkable athletes have been training diligently since they were children. While few will achieve the kinds of success these athletes have, it hasn’t stopped them from trying.
Youth athletes often begin their competitive sports careers as early as age seven, with some youth participating in organized sports activities as early as age four, if not sooner. With an estimated 25 million scholastic, and another 20 million organized community-based youth programs in the United States, the opportunity for injury is enormous.
That is not to say that children should avoid sports, in fact, physical activity is necessary for normal growth and good health. However, when young children specialize in one particular sport and the activity level becomes too intense or too excessive in a short time period, tissue breakdown and injury can occur.
These overuse injuries used to be seen frequently in adult recreational athletes, but are now being seen in children. The single biggest factor contributing to the dramatic increase in overuse injuries in young athletes is the focus on more intense, repetitive and specialized training at much younger ages.
The AAP has these recommendations for young athletes and their parents:
• Delay sports specialization until at least age 15-16 to minimize risks of overuse injury.
• Encourage participation in multiple sports.
• If a young athlete has decided to specialize in a single sport, a pediatrician should discuss the child's goals to determine whether they are appropriate and realistic.
• Parents are encouraged to monitor the training and coaching environment of "elite" youth sports programs.
• Encourage a young athlete to take off at least three months during the year, in increments of one month, from their particular sport. They can still remain active in other activities during this time.
• Young athletes should take one to two days off per week to decrease chances of injury.
"The ultimate goal of sports is for kids to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills," Dr. Brenner said. "We want kids to have more time for deliberate play, where they can just go out and play with their friends and have fun."
The AAP report was published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Story sources: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Clinical-Report-Young-Children-Risk-Injury-in-Single-Sport-Specialization.aspx