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Morgan Kalman

Sports Specialization and the Young Athlete

· Sports Medicine · Comments Off on Sports Specialization and the Young Athlete

Is There Increased Risk of Injury?

The answer is yes according to this study performed at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago as reported in the April 2015 addition of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

They examined 1190 (50.7% male) injured athletes between ages 7-18 from 2 hospital based sports medicine clinics and compared them with controls from the affiliated primary care clinics undergoing sports physicals (2010-2013).
There were 822 injured participants (49.5% male) and 368 uninjured (55% male). Injured athletes were older (14.1 vs. 12.9) and reported more total hours of physical activity (19.6 vs. 17.6 h/wk) and organized sports activity (11.2 vs. 9.1 h/wk).

The authors determined that sports specialized training was an independent risk for injury and serious injury. Previous studies have also demonstrated that “injury risk increases with age and training volume.”


It is well known that the number of young children are participating in organized sports. There is no question that organized sports have many positive aspects in the growth of the young athlete. These include fun, exercise, socialization, and learning life skills. The potential downside is becoming too consumed with one sport to the point where pressure from parents, coaches and time spent can potentially eliminate these benefits, maybe even quitting the sport.

This study as well as others also shows us that specialization was an independent risk for injury.

While there are some limitations to this study the message is clear. Specialization results in more overuse injuries in the young athlete.

What can we do?

• Limit the number of teams in which your child is playing in one season. Kids who play on more than one team are especially at risk for overuse injuries.
• Do not allow your child to play one sport year round – taking regular breaks and playing other sports is essential to skill development and injury prevention.
• Conditioning that focuses on the total body, not the sport although sport specific conditioning can be part of the program

Do more to create an environment for healthy competition and sportsmanship, learning how to cope with the successes and failures that go with sport and life itself. Introduce some fun, a change of pace once in a while to keep things fresh.

While I understand that there are highly gifted athletes that excel in one area, let’s try to keep the young athletes in mind and allow them to achieve their potential while minimizing injury. After all, injuries do ultimately take their toll and may prevent achieving they level they sought to begin with.