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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In 2016, multiple studies found that youth athletes who specialized in one sport and played it year round (as opposed to being multi-sport athletes) were at significantly higher risk of suffering an overuse injury.

Why it matters: This has become an increasingly alarming issue since those studies were released — particularly when it comes to basketball, the most popular youth sport in America.

  • Today's young players are faster, stronger and play more basketball than ever before — but repetitive impact on and usage of the same muscles and bones leave them injury prone.
  • Even the most athletically-gifted players are physically broken down by the time they reach the NBA. Proof: The four highest tallies of games missed by young players in their first two pro seasons have occurred in the past four years.
"They have more miles at a younger age and then, when they get to the NBA, they're less mature structurally and physically. Even though they look like giants, they just can't tolerate as much."
UNC sports science expert Darin Padua, via ESPN

The big picture: Kids who play basketball consistently between ages 7 and 19 could play more than 1,000 organized games, according to estimates. For reference, 29-year-old James Harden has played 881 games in his NBA career — and that includes the playoffs.

  • Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant says he didn't start intensely training until age 15 and barely played organized games during the summer — evidence of just how much has changed over the generations.
  • "You try to overload these kids and get them to be the best in one year. It's just absolutely ridiculous," he told ESPN.

A potential solution: Three years ago, the NBA and USA Basketball released their first-ever guidelines for youth basketball. One of their main recommendations: delaying specialization until at least age 14.

  • Yes, but: Enforcing those guidelines is no easy task. After all, while Little League has pitch counts, there's no equivalent on the hardwood.

The bottom line: While basketball presents the most striking case, specialization can lead to heightened injury risk across all sports.

  • When you add in the fact that it can also result in burnout, it's hard to argue against playing multiple sports at the youth level (or at least abandoning the "embrace the grind" ethos).

Go deeper

6 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.