Children are playing sports in too structured a manner too early in life on adult-size fields—i.e., too large for optimal skill development—and spending too much time in one sport. It can lead to serious injuries and, a growing body of sports science shows, a lesser ultimate level of athletic success.
We should urge kids to avoid hyperspecialization and instead sample a variety of sports through at least age 12.
Nearly a third of youth athletes in a three-year longitudinal study led by Neeru Jayanthi, director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University in Chicago, were highly specialized—they had quit multiple sports in order to focus on one for more than eight months a year—and another third weren't far behind. Even controlling for age and the total number of weekly hours in sports, kids in the study who were highly specialized had a 36 percent increased risk of suffering a serious overuse injury. Dr. Jayanthi saw kids with stress fractures in their backs, arms or legs; damage to elbow ligaments; and cracks in the cartilage in their joints.
Because families with greater financial resources were better able to facilitate the travel and private coaching that specialization requires, socioeconomic status turned up as a positive predictor of serious injury. Some young athletes now face surgeries befitting their grandparents. Young hockey goaltenders repeatedly practice butterfly style—which stresses the developing hip joint when the legs are splayed to block the bottom of the goal. The sports surgeon Marc Philippon, based in Vail, Colo., saw a 25-year-old goalie who already needed a hip replacement.
The op-ed mainly focuses on soccer and other more typical youth sports, but it got me thinking of whether this is playing out in skating. Actually the skater who supports the author's assertion of the benefits of variety if Jason Brown.
This article on Jason Brown published prior to Sochi references Brown's active involvement in a variety of youth sports: http://highlandpark.suntimes.com/201...-than-skating/
Jason Brown, as we all know, has not had to deal with a lot of injuries, unlike his peer rivial, Joshua Farris.What Brown hopes will be a career spanning three Olympic Games got its start when he was 3½. His mother and father, Marla and Steve Brown, signed him up for skating and many other sports through the Park District of Highland Park and other places around town.
“I did all the school sports,” Brown said. “I was in travel soccer through eighth grade. I was in a baseball league in fifth grade. My parents gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do.”
One of those things was going to camp at the Olin Sang Ruby Institute in Wisconsin each summer. Sports, though not skating, were part of the agenda there.
But it was three weeks of camp when he was 13 that helped him concentrate on the sport that would take him to the world stage.
Not long after his time at camp, his skating prowess began to grow and Brown was selected to represent the United States in an international competition in Canada.
“I didn’t do well,” Brown said. “It was the first time I realized what it was going to take to be as good as I could be.”
That year was his last summer of camp and the following school year was the end of travel soccer.
Also perhaps Charlie White is another example of the benefit of not getting too specialized. Maybe since he did Hockey and figure skating, the injuries were kept at bay. Besides an injury when he was 15 that ended one of their junior seasons early, he hasn't really suffered any major injuries.