New research offers further evidence that young people who specialise in one sport may have an increased risk of injury.
A multi-year, ongoing study of 10,138 older children and teens shows that focusing on just one sport is associated with higher levels of vigorous exercise — and those who engage in the most hours of intense activity per week are the most likely to sustain injuries such as stress fractures, tendinitis and ACL tears.
“It’s wonderful for a child to love a sport and to want to engage in it, but we must keep in mind the number of hours spent playing,” said study author Alison Field, a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “They add up pretty quickly.”
The researchers noted that athletes who focus on one particular sport tend to practise more frequently and intensely compared to athletes who do not.
“But if we send out a message that says kids shouldn’t specialise, the worry is that parents and kids will just add another sport on top,” Field said. “So they’ll keep their current sport and do it at a very high level and just add one more sport so they’re not ‘specializing’. That would really increase their volume, so it probably would not be a good idea.”
Instead, Field recommends moderating the amount of time young athletes spend engaging in vigorous physical activity — and if they must specialise in a sport, replace some of their training with different forms of exercise, such as yoga and conditioning.
The findings have been published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.