Is Sports Specialization in Children a Good Thing?

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Over the past 40 years, youth sports culture has changed dramatically. Neighborhood kids meeting up in the evenings for a relaxed pick-up game of basketball or baseball has slowly been replaced with serious participation in organized sports run by schools or private sports organizations. Many parents patiently await the day when their son or daughter reaches the sports playing age, where they'll find an answer to the long brewed-over question: What sport will they play?

But what happens when parents and/or coaches see a talent emerging from their child at a young age? For most, the knee-jerk answer is to encourage and push their child further in that direction; after all, what parent doesn’t want to see their child succeed and win? This is one of the reasons sports specialization is becoming the norm in youth sports. Many young athletes are being pushed by their families and coaches to exclusively pursue one sport in the hopes of mastering it. The thinking is: If everything aligns perfectly, this could mean great success for the young athlete. But doing so also runs the risk of some long-lasting negative impacts on the mind and body.

When you think of specializing in a sport, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Practice, practice, and more practice. The amount of time spent practicing and competing can become overwhelming for an athlete of such a young age and can lead to exhaustion and burnout, which is characterized by physical, mental or emotional exhaustion. An esteemed colleague of mine, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, spoke to ABC News recently about the very real physical risks of youth sports specialization. He said that physically, overuse injuries become much more common and the risk increases when the young athlete continually uses the same motions and set of muscles, and may neglect to properly train their body as a whole.

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