Specialization in sports among youth athletes may cause more harm than good
While some degree of specialization is necessary to develop elite skills in performance-based sports like figure skating, research shows for most sports, intense training in a single sport should be delayed until adolescence.
"If you are becoming too specialized too soon you are actually doing more damage. You have a 32% to 46% increased risk for injury and the likelihood of going into an elite status as an athlete is smaller," said sports medicine physician Dr. Chris Liebig with Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley.
Dr. Liebig says of the nearly 38 million kids that participate in sports, 10% end up receiving treatment for a sports-related injury. However, he believes half of those shouldn't even be occurring. "As far as overuse injuries, a lot of these should be and could be preventable," said Dr. Liebig.
Beginning a sport too early, spending too much time participating in a sport and playing in an environment that's too structured are three factors that can contribute to overuse injuries. Current recommendations encourage kids to hold off on specializing until they're at least 15 to minimize their chance for injury. By that age, boys typically have three years left of growing and girls are just about done with their growth spurts.
"During the growth spurts, the growth plates are at a higher risk for injury, more so than even when they're not growing when they are younger, but when they are in that active stage of growing these growth plates are a lot weaker," said Dr. Liebig.
One of the most common growth plate injuries is Sever's Disease. Dr. Liebig says that's the heel pain growing kids, especially physically active kids, experience after their heel's growth plate becomes inflamed.