A New York Times article states it starkly:
Too many children are risking injuries, even lifelong health problems, because they practice too intensively in a single sport, and parents should set limits on their participation, according to a leading organization of athletic trainers.
The problem is that many kids are training as if they're about to go off to the Olympics -- or at least get a college scholarship.
“Single-sports specialization is bordering on an epidemic in terms of the risks it can pose, for physical injuries as well as the potential for negative psychological effects,” said Tory Lindley, president of N.A.T.A. [National Athletic Trainers Association].
“There is a myth that it takes a single-sport specialization to succeed,” Mr. Lindley added. “In fact, we’re learning from research and anecdotal evidence that there is actually an opportunity for athleticism to improve if you expose the body to different sports and different movements.”
In the great new book, "Range," author David Epstein talks about the fact that people who participate in, well, a range of different sports and different activities, period, often end up better equipped for the real world (of sports, of industry, of life) because they have so many more ideas, movements and experiences to mix and match when presented with a problem.
The book's subtitle, "Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World," should give us all pause when we think about our children's extracurricular activities. And of course Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray's book "Free to Learn," is all about how structured sports teach kids the actual athletic skills in question. But in free play -- when kids organize their own fun -- kids learn a whole host of skills, like communication, compromise, etc., etc. So it's great to give kids some time for that kind of play, too.
Here are NATA's six recommendations:
Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible. To support general fitness and reduce injuries, “adolescent and young athletes should strive to participate, or sample, a variety of sports,” N.A.T.A. said.
One team at a time. Youngsters should participate in only one organized sport per season.
Youngsters should not play a single sport more than eight months per year. Breaks in training give overstressed tissues time to recover, evidence suggests.
This weekend, if you and your kids are heading to a sports activity run by adults, see if getting their a little earlier than usual, or staying almost ridiculously late gives the kids a chance to just play on their own. We'd love to hear what the kids do and how they like it!