Why participating in multiple sports can lower your young athletes’ risk of injury

Written by Kelsey Schmitt, Brickhouse CrossFit Coach and Director of Kids

These days’ children are being pushed into being one sport wonders.  Young athletes are being pressured into focusing on one sport from a young age.  This leaves these young athletes at a greater risk for injury. Every year 3.5 million children under the age of 14 are treated for sports injuries, and among middle school and high school athletes more than half of them are overuse injuries (Stop Sports Injuries).

With newer school rules allowing stand up paddle boards sport to practice year round the pressure to stick with that one sport is increasing.  Throw in there that colleges recruit as early as eighth grade and the stress of becoming an elite athlete is overwhelming.  We won’t even mention parental pressures!

As mentioned earlier, the focus on one sport typically leads to overuse injuries.  A child who play just one sport generally spends about 10 hours a week training for that one sport.  That means 10 hours a week of the same repetitive movements.   A recent report from the Sports Medicine department at Loyola University school of medicine found that children are at a higher risk of injury if they play just one sport than those who play two or more (Chicago Tribune).

So why do we think it is important for children to specialize in a sport earlier?  Parents and coaches often believe the following:

  1. It is the only way to get an edge on competition: We often assume sports is like academics.  Once a child falls behind you can never catch up or so we think.  This goes hand in hand with the next belief that more is better.  Pushing a child both academically and physically in a sport too early can hinder progress more than allowing children to develop at a natural pace.
  2. More is better: This is a common mentality in our country.  More money is better (sure it pays the bills), more material things are better, more food is better… the list could go on.  Instead, go with the thought quality over quantity.  I had a softball coach growing up tell my teammates and I repeatedly “quality over quantity”.  Referring to practice it was better to practice good or perfect form for a few reps versus bad form for hours.  The thought that is pushed by coaches, parents and colleges is more teams, more practices and more games is the way to go.  However, this is a good way to push a child to burn-out fast.
  3. They are looking to get an advantage: The advantage being college scholarships, professional teams.  With the increase in college tuition and the salaries of the average professional athlete being significant parents want to offer their child every opportunity to gain this advantage.  While this is not a bad option as the child gets into their later years of adolescent it doesn’t need to be something pushed at an early age.

As someone who has gone through the process of being an athlete and now working with children I can recommend that diversifying a child’s sport or activity experience will only benefit their future.  It is best to encourage youth ages 12 and under to stay active and learn as many sports as possible.  During these early years it allows them to develop both physically and mentally. A multiple sport or interest background will help children improve muscle coordination and balance.  It can also improve self- discipline and social interaction.

There are positive effects of getting involved in activities at a young age.  Self-esteem improves, greater opportunity for family attachment and parent contact, stronger peer relationships just to name a few.  Add to it the additional of another activity or sport an individual learns to work as a team, improve on life skills that will prove important later in life, develop key components such as coordination, balance, agility and so on.

In a sense you can think of playing multiple sports as cross-training, allowing the child to develop more muscle groups and improve overall movement.  This cross-training will also prevent burnout and lack of motivation. One way to incorporate cross-training into what your children are already doing is CrossFit.  At Brickhouse, we work with the CCA Marlins swim team.  They are very specialized team focusing year round on training in the pool.  By incorporating CrossFit into their training, we not only help each swimmer with their specialization but also balancing out their bodies.  Our teen and kids program provides cross-training to all ages.  Through the development of body awareness and motor patterns we train the child for any sport they wish to excel at.  By creating sport diversification, we reduce the opportunity for overuse injuries.  Setting up children for a healthier future.