By Matthew Varca, PT, DPT, PRC
Young athletes get involved with sports because they are fun! However, due to the highly competitive nature of athletics we are seeing more and more children fall victim to the ill effects of early specialization in an effort to achieve a high degree of athleticism. Early specialization is when a child participates in a singular sport, playing in multiple consecutive seasons, often without a proper off-season. There are several issues with this approach that may be putting your child at risk and minimizing their athletic potential.
The young athlete’s body is not prepared for specialization. Their skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems are not developed to handle the repetitive stresses that sport specialization demands. Their bodies and systems thrive and mature with diverse and various movements, skills, and stimuli. By participating in a singular, often year-round sport, children are limiting their movement potential and not developing a broad experience of athleticism that allows them to problem solve movement and become a better athlete. This will restrict long term athletic potential because the athlete cannot grow and develop properly when under the stressors of constant competition. This limits the young athlete’s capacity when it comes time for ultimate performance in their later teenage years.
For instance, if you look at the 2016 NFL draft over 90% of those athletes participating played more than one sport in high school. What this ensures is that they develop a broad movement experience that allows for improved sport adaptability leading to decreased risk of injury. Follow the tips below to maximize long term athletic development while allowing the young athlete to develop the foundation they need for higher level performance later on in life.
Tips to improve long term athletic development:
- Play multiple sports starting from an early age.
- Get at least one true offseason in a year where you are not competing in your sport for consecutive seasons.
- Have in place a proper offseason training program to develop the underlying movements, muscular demands and energy systems of your sport.
- Limit sport specialization until 15-16 years of age.
If you want guidance for your child as they pursue athletics, please schedule a consult with myself. I would be happy to assist with all your rehab and sport performance needs.