Oct 18, 2019

The fight against sports specialization for kids

Kids playing soccer

Photo: Maja Hitij/FIFA via Getty Images

Growing concern about a rise in injuries and burnout among young athletes who specialize in one sport has led the National Athletic Trainers' Association to issue new recommendations urging parents to ease up.

The big picture: In addition to preventing injuries and burnout, there's also evidence to suggest that playing multiple sports can improve, rather than hinder, a young athlete's trajectory — shocking news for parents and kids who thought year-round specialization was the only path to stardom.

The recommendations:

  • Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible.
  • Participate in 1 organized sport per season.
  • Play each sport for no more than 8 months per year.
  • Rest for a minimum of 2 days per week.
  • Recover by taking ample time away from sports at the end of each season.

By the numbers: Youth sports specialization has had a particularly large impact on basketball, where kids who play year-round between the ages of 7 and 19 could participate in more than 1,000 games, according to estimates.

  • For reference, 30-year-old James Harden has played 881 games in his NBA career — and that includes the playoffs.
  • Add it all up and it's no wonder why today's players — after years of putting constant stress on the same bones, muscles and joints — are so physically worn down by the time they reach the NBA.
"There is a myth that it takes a single-sport specialization to succeed. 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."
— NATA president Tory Lindley, per NYT

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