A New York Times Op-Ed article this week discusses an important trend of children playing sports at a highly specialized and competitive level at earlier and earlier ages. Both parental and social pressures have contributed to this concerning trend, as it has led to greater rates of serious injuries in young athletes, both at the recreational and professional levels.
The author shrewdly points out that while there is national attention regarding concussions, there is a clear lack of focus on the issue of kids specializing and then overtraining in a single sport, leading to a significant increase in serious injury rates that were once typically since only at the professional level. A study from Loyola University in Chicago showed an almost 40% increase in serious overuse injuries, including stress fractures, ligament injuries., and cartilage damage in kids who specialized in single sports at an earlier age. Studies by Dr. James Andrews, the prominent orthopedic surgeon who has treated numerous professional athletes, attributed increased arm injury rates later in life to year round youth baseball.
The article recognizes not only the value of children playing multiple sports and “cross training” but, more importantly, emphasizes the importance of letting kids develop at a more natural pace. An example everyone can learn from comes from Peyton Manning, who wasn’t allowed to participate in any formal football programs until he was in 7th grade because his father Archie Manning, the former Saints quarterback, was fearful that a child Peyton’s age was too young to tolerate the impact of such a sport. I think everyone knows he hasn’t had a problem catching up since then.
Posted in: Musculoskeletal Medicine