Welcome to the initial blog post from RehabAuthority!! This has been a long time in the making and I’m super excited to kick this off.
I’m going to come right out of the gate full throttle with a topic that is very near and dear to my heart and that is youth sports. As a dad of two teenage boys I’ve been immersed in the culture of youth sports for the past 15 years. As a matter of fact this is my 15th year in a row of coaching basketball and football and I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of great kids and parents. I also chair a nonprofit organization called Idaho Sports Foundation that helps to administer a fantastic sports program called Upward Sports. On a yearly basis, we have roughly 1,500-2,000 kids come through our Upward Sports programs, so when I say I am immersed in youth sports I am truly deep in it, the good but unfortunately also the bad.
Having been a part of this culture for so long I believe I am well qualified to say there are some things that are very broken in the culture of youth sports. In all the years I’ve coached kids, the #1 problem is always parents, not kids. Sure, I’ve had an occasional kid with an attitude issue or bad sportsmanship, but in those situations the coach player relationship is well defined and I have tools to handle these situations and it’s generally easy to resolve and truthfully a rare issue. The ugliest part of youth sports is parents who have win all at costs attitudes and who are completely out of control in their attitudes and expectations. Earlier this year I had to ask a parent to leave our football facilities because of his language and combative attitude towards other fans and our referees. This was in a first and second grade flag football game in which we don’t even keep score!!!
I could talk for hours about the heart to heart conversations I’ve had to have with dads and moms about their inappropriate behaviors on the sidelines. In 90% of the cases, after the dust has settled and we are having that conversation parents are completely embarrassed by their behavior and we hug it out and things are fine. Unfortunately, there is a small percentage of people that just have some bad wiring and no matter what is said or how things are explained their true character won’t change and they are just a cancer in every sports league they are in.
So, this leads me to the true heart of this discussion. In this part of the discussion I am speaking as a parent, a coach and a physical therapist. Over the last 15 years I have witnessed an incredible evolution in youth sports with club teams and year-round training. I have seen so many kids that are locked into one sport from grade school. I believe in the majority of these situations parents are driving this. Generally speaking, the reason given is pursuit of a college scholarship and the belief is if kids specialize early they will master their sport and scholarship opportunities will abound. There are certainly cases where this has worked out and the goal was attained. However, in the VAST MAJORITY of cases this does not happen and the ugly truth is there is an insurmountable amount of evidence that tells us single sport specialization is a horrible idea and is doing far more harm than good. Let me list some of the compelling evidence that is out there.
- Children who specialize in a single sport account for 50% of overuse injuries in young athletes according to pediatric orthopedic specialists.
- A study by Ohio State University found that children who specialized early in a single sport led to higher rates of adult physical inactivity. Those who commit to one sport at a young age are often the first to quit, and suffer a lifetime of consequences.
- In a study of 1200 youth athletes, Dr Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70% to 93% more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports!
- Children who specialize early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment
- Early sport specialization in female adolescents is associated with increased risk of anterior knee pain disorders including patella femoral disorder, Osgood Schlatter and Sinding Larsen-Johansson compared to multi-sport athletes, and may lead to higher rates of future ACL tears (added May 2014).
- A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences last year looked directly at the youth sports specialization issue. The study found that young athletes who competed in three sports at ages 11, 13, and 15 were significantly more likely to compete at an elite national level in their preferred sport than those who specialized in only one sport at the ages of 11, 13, and 15.
- In another study, from 2012, also published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, young male athletes who participated in multiple sports were found to be more physically fit, have better gross motor coordination, more explosive strength, and better speed and agility than those who specialized in a single sport.
- For most sports, there is no evidence that intense training and specialization before puberty are necessary to achieve elite status. Risks of early sports specialization include higher rates of injury, increased psychological stress, and quitting sports at a young age.
- The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) published results of a 2012 survey that found 88 percent of college athletes surveyed participated in more than one sport as a child.
- Studies indicate that playing multiple sports actually results in longer playing careers, better confidence, motivation, motor control and athletic development, plus the ability to transfer these skills to other sports more easily.
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