Gymnast chalking hands

Sep 07, 2016 / Sports Medicine

Early Sports Specialization

We hope you enjoyed watching the Summer Games as much as we did! After watching multiple medal ceremonies, your child may be motivated to commit to a single sport for a chance at the world stage.

Many professional athletes have been perfecting their sport since a very young age. For some, that may have been the only sport they played for a long time. But it’s a myth to believe that this is the right way to become an elite athlete.

We’ve seen countless examples of professional athletes change sports in their careers. For example, some professional athletes were picked up by baseball minor league teams long before they joined a football team. And several athletes have retired from their sports and picked up professional soccer. These examples help to show that multi-sport athletes can be very successful for many years.

Some sports, with performance peaks in younger age groups like gymnastics and swimming, may require earlier specialization. With that comes risks of overuse injury and burnout. Jane Chung, M.D., says, “Parents should also consider the child’s ability to handle the sport based on his or her cognitive and motor development as well as emotional and social skills. These are often overlooked when considering a child’s readiness for a sport.”

As a rule of thumb, weekly hours of training should be less than the child’s age in years. A 7-year-old should aim to train in a single sport less than seven hours per week. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that athletes should rest 1-2 days per week and take three months off from a particular sport throughout the year. Before the age of 12, athletes should look to participate in more than one sport, or at a minimum, spend off-hours cross-training with a variety of physical activities. Dr. Chung says, “Most importantly, kids will naturally pick and modify activities so they can have fun!”

Watch our pediatric sports medicine surgeon Philip Wilson, M.D., explain some of the risks of early sports specialization here.

Learn more about injury prevention and pediatric sports medicine.


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