Not long ago, it was normal for a young athlete to play multiple sports throughout the school year, and take summers off from formal athletics altogether. This no longer seems to be the case. From a young age, athletes are committing to a single sport for 12 months of the year. By doing this, they hope to gain skill and progress more quickly. Unfortunately, there are negatives to this changing trend.
While it is seductive to think that focusing on a single sport will make you a better athlete, evidence shows that this isn’t the reality. In fact, research confirms that single sport athletes have a higher career rate of injury than multiple sport athletes. Specifically, in a recent study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, evidence suggests an association between “early single sport specialization and overuse injuries.” The author goes on to point out that single sport athletes are associated with higher rates of psychological burnout and dropping out of sports altogether.
Benefits of Multiple Sport
Playing multiple sports is beneficial due to the changing demands on the body and mind. Indeed, it pays off because it trains the body to be stronger and faster in more diverse ways. Playing multiple sports keeps you fit and strong, while also avoiding overuse of the tissues you need for the sport you want to focus on. It can even hone skills that help you in your primary sport; like speed, endurance, balance, and hand-eye coordination.
Single Sport Athletes
However, if you do chose to focus on a single sport, what can you do to stay healthy? Certainly, the best solution is to include as much rest time between seasons as possible. In addition, include cross training in your plan to work muscle groups that you don’t use in your sport. Giving your body this “active rest” between seasons allows the opportunity to heal fatigued muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
While many young athletes believe that focusing on a single sport is important for advancing into collegiate and professional athletics, for most, it is probably doing more harm than good. In conclusion, keeping athletes as healthy as possible, for as long as possible, and enjoying their sport should be the ultimate goal. A well-rounded routine, plenty of recovery time, and a healthy mental outlook are the ways to accomplish this.
Written by: Tessa Cashman, ATC athletic trainer for The Center Foundation and Bend Senior High School in Bend, OR. Learn more about Tessa HERE.
The Center Foundation places dedicated athletic trainers in local high schools to provide sports medicine services to young athletes at no charge to the students or their families. Learn more about our work HERE.
Patrick S. Buckley, MD, et al.(2017) Early Single-Sport Specialization: A Survey of 3090 High School, Collegiate, and Professional Athletes. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 5(7): 2325967117703944 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5536378/
Rugg, Kadoor , Feeley, Pandya (2017) The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 46(2):402-408 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29135275