What Does Sport-Specialization Mean?
The term “sport-specialization” refers to the idea of participating in one primary sporting activity instead of participation in multiple. This concept is somewhat under fire for being a causative factor in an increased number of injuries in adolescents who choose to specialize, specifically at too young of an age.
Orthopedic surgeons and other medical professionals have begun to detect this correlation. This has made them advise against sport-specialization in the time before or during a child’s physical maturation period.
Many young athletes choose to limit the scope of the activities they are involved in at one age or another. This is not an uncommon pattern; at a young age, children might have varied interests in sports and other activities, and they will generally be motivated to discover which activities feel like a fit for their particular skill sets and passions.
They don’t feel any pressure to “pick one” unless that concept is imposed upon them by the adults in their lives. Obviously, there can be perfectly valid reasons for parents to attempt to limit their child’s interests to a core few or one specific activity. It is becoming apparent that encouraging children to specialize too young can negatively impact them in several ways.
- Lead to a greater risk of injury in adolescents and pre-adolescents.
- Apply too much pressure on children before they are capable of coping with such stressors.
- Reduce the child’s overall enjoyment of or connection to their chosen sporting activity, which is known to be a strong motivator for the success they would otherwise achieve in their sport of choice.
Why Do Adolescents Choose to Specialize?
The most common motivation generally comes from outside influences. It boils down to an expectation that the child be successful in sports if they become an expert at one thing instead of a “master of none.”
Many parents, coaches, and other well-meaning individuals will assert that a child is capable of attaining a great deal of success if they will concentrate all their energy on one specific sport.
Whereas a child or adolescent might be pushed to specialize for a potential economic or educational benefit, they might be motivated to do so internally just in hopes of becoming the best after laser-focusing their energies on one concrete goal.
What Exactly Are the Issues with Sport-Specialization?
Sport-specialization is a novel concept, but it can pose serious problems for children in the way of injuries, stress, and loss of interest in sports in general.
The most imperative issue with sport specialization is that children are more prone to injury when their muscle groups are only required to function in specific ways that an individual sport requires. It is now being shown that multiple sport participation provides a healthier engagement of the musculoskeletal system in developing bodies.
Premature sports-specialization can also lead to undue pressure and stressors. This can happen prior to their development of the skills that allow them to cope with these types of tension. The pressure to be the best and attain specific victories just to get a scholarship or using that sporting activity as a source of income can be too great for a child. Especially for those who haven’t yet learned the adult skills that come along with such a daunting request.
Finally, children who are asked or pressured to sport-specialize are much more likely to become disinterested and even resentful of the sport they used to love. What seems like endless practicing, sore bodies, and overly pressurized sporting events can cause even the most enthusiastic athlete to throw in the towel.
How Can These Issues Be Avoided Through Multi-Sport Participation?
Multi-sport participation can be a positive solution to these aforementioned pressures and injury-causing environments. Contrary to popular belief, allowing a child to participate in varying types of athletic activity can actually increase their body’s ability to learn and use muscle groups in different ways that are necessary to prevent injuries.
Doing so will reduce the occurrence of injuries from underdeveloped coordination skills, which is a primary symptom of sports-specialization. When the young athlete is challenged to develop different methods of coordination, particularly in their lower extremities, they are less likely to sustain patellofemoral injuries and other types of lower body pain and injury.
If your child is suffering from pains in the knees, lower legs, and/or various other parts of the body, and are accompanied by other symptoms (such as disinterest and burnout), it might be time to consider make a change in favor of their physical and mental health.
The orthopedic doctors, orthopedic surgeons, and physical therapists at AICA Orthopedics are here to assist if you find that your child has sustained an injury or is coping with pain associated with sport-specialization. Contact our team to learn more today!