While a change in seasons used to mark a time to tackle a different sport, some children today focus exclusively on a single activity year-round. Is too much of a good thing not so good?
Who is pushing the activitiy?
It all depends on who has the idea of specializing in one sport, says Jay Noffsinger, MD, professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and SLUCare pediatric sports medicine specialist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
If the child is pushing the activity, that’s fine. But if the pressure to concentrate on one sport comes from a parent trying to live his or her dreams through a child, or from an over-zealous coach who believes winning is the only thing, that’s another story.
“We’re seeing children at younger and younger ages focusing on one sport 12 months a year for five hours a day,” Noffsinger says. “If selecting only one sport is the child’s idea, it’s okay. But if children are not driven to do only one thing, they are probably better off in the long run to dabble in many activities.”
Growing bodies are at greater risk of sports injuries that come from doing the same movements, drills and exercises over and over. And kids who concentrate exclusively on one sport at a young age are more likely get burned out and lose interest in participating in it as they get older.
Kids who play an assortment of sports including individual activities — biking, running, swimming, golf or tennis, for instance — carry that lifestyle into adulthood. It’s easier to lace up a pair of running shoes for a jog through the neighborhood than to get 17 of your best friends together for a spur of the moment game of baseball after work. But that probably won’t dissuade the young athlete who fancies herself the next Mia Hamm and dedicates her life to soccer. Noffsinger sees patients who may suffer injuries from overuse at a weekly sports medicine clinic.
“For those kids who are possessed by their sport, our optimum goal is to get them back to doing what they love,” he says.