Sports specialization



As a physician who treats athletes, I find myself in a position to see the positive and negative effects of sports. Sports are addicting ... kids love to play because it's fun, they get to spend time with their friends, they are active, and somewhere around half the time they even win. I love youth sports and it's my hope that every kid finds at least one sport they can love for a lifetime.

Sports can be so entertaining that many kids (and parents/coaches) want to play the same sport year-round. While there are many potential benefits, the increased repetition of similar movement patterns can produce injuries. Also, the simple mathematics of probability make it more likely one would get hurt the more one is out playing. 

However, what if playing the same sport conditions the body against injuries? For example, I would definitely get hurt if I stepped into the ring with an experienced MMA fighter. The experienced fighter would know how to avoid injuries from me, but I wouldn't have a clue how to defend myself against him.

Many organizations have published guidelines for youth sports participation. Nearly every baseball and softball organization has pitch count and/or inning limits. Youth football has guidelines for contact practicing. Many other sports have game limits for each tournament day.  

The science behind some of these recommendations is very good. However, there are many unanswered questions in the field of sports specialization. Through the national pediatric sports medicine group PRISM (Pediatric Research in Sports Medicine), I am collaborating with physicians, athletic trainers and physical therapists from all over the U.S. to improve the science of sports specialization.  

We have developed a survey to investigate specialization in youth soccer. If you are 12 to 18 and play soccer, you are eligible to help us by taking this electronic survey. It does not take long to fill out, and none of your personal information is collected: http://go.wisc.edu/zpxn89

Thank you in advance for your participation in this valuable work. Together we will improve the quality and safety of youth sports.