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Sports Specialization in Young Athletes


Sports Specialization in Young Athletes

Is the Pressure to Excel Actually Hurting Your Child?

Young athletes are being increasingly driven to focus on a single sport in the hopes that they can join elite teams and earn college sports scholarships. The bad news is that early specialization has led to an increase in injuries, overtraining and burnout, according to recent studies.

What was once a free-play environment that children enjoy has become more demanding, adult-driven and structured. Training is more intense, and the pressure to succeed can be too much for young athletes, leading to burnout and injury. Coaches and parents alike can be responsible for encouraging this intense training and specialization.

In fact, research supports the positive effects of diversification in young athletes as opposed to specialization. Early diversification develops greater motor skills and athleticism that will serve young athletes well if they choose to specialize later.

Signs to Watch Out For

The warning signs of overtraining and burnout include:

• Change in mood
• Lack of enthusiasm
• Weight loss
• Increase in injuries
• Joint and muscle pain
• Exhaustion

If your child has been rigorously participating in a physically demanding team sport (i.e., tennis, football or basketball) and is exhibiting any of these symptoms, talk to them about it. When they feel that they’re in a safe and loving environment, they are more likely to open up about the pressure to succeed and any symptoms they may be experiencing.

Let them know that cutting back on these strenuous activities is nothing to be ashamed of. Have them examined by a pediatric sports specialist to check for any injuries that may have occurred and rehab if necessary.

On the topic, Dr. Alexandra Matthews, Orthopedic Performance Institute Sports Medicine specialist says, “Recent literature has shown an increase in physeal (growth plate) injuries, overtraining syndrome, and other pathologies as a result of specializing too early in sports. Adolescents who play multiple sports and specialize at a later age report more overall satisfaction in their athletic careers. In addition, they are more likely to exercise and participate in pick up games later in life.”

At Orthopedic Performance Institute, our dedicated physicians are experts at identifying and treating pediatric sports injuries. Contact us for an appointment today to ensure that your young athlete stays in top shape. Our offices are conveniently located in San Antonio and Boerne, Texas.


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