December - Sports Specialization

Grant Stewart
Single sport specialization among youth and adolescent athletes is a growing trend in the last couple of decades.  More youth athletes are quitting one or more sports to focus on one sport exclusively. Overwhelming research shows sport specialization is harmful to youth athletes.  There are many benefits for youth athletes to participate in multiple sports. Some of those include a decrease in the prevalence of injuries, exposure to different coaches and experiences, and improving the athletic talent of all sports at Mullen High School.
Researchers examined data from five previously published studies with a total of about 5,600 athletes age 18 or younger. Compared to athletes who played the widest variety of sports, youth who specialized the most were 81 percent more likely to experience an overuse injury, the study found (Bell et al., 2018).  Overuse injuries are so prevalent in single sport athletes because the same motions and movements are repeated over and over. The same is true about “sport specific” weight training programs. Many coaches and athletes want a “sport specific” training program for adolescent athletes. The problem is adolescent athletes usually do not have a level of strength or experience to successfully complete a specific program.  On top of that, it would be ill-advised to perform movements in the weight room that are similar to movements of the sport. More repetitive movements will lead to a higher prevalence of injury.  

Instead of playing one sport and training for that sport with similar movements to the sport, young athletes should play multiple sports.  Playing multiple sports exposes athletes to different movements, utilizing different muscles during different times of the year. An example of overuse that comes to mind is hearing of a 10 year old baseball player having Tommy John elbow surgery.  No athlete that young should require that surgery if the well-being of that athlete is the priority. Expose athletes to multiple sports, learn to use muscles differently and reduce the likelihood of overuse injury. 

Playing multiple sports gives adolescent athletes exposure to different coaching, experiences and roles on a team.  It is highly beneficial for athletes to learn from different coaches, learn different techniques, and experience different coaching styles.  Athletes will gain new experiences playing different sports and on different teams. They may even learn to analyze their game in a new way that can carry over to other sports.  Playing new sports gives athletes a new role. While they may be the star in one sport, they can learn to play an assisting role in another sport. Having multiple experiences and roles will help each athlete become a better all-around athlete.  

Lastly, at Mullen High School, we need all of our athletes playing as many sports as possible.  Playing larger schools in larger classifications necessitates to have as many athletes as possible tryout for each sport.  To be as competitive as possible and to give our athletes, coaches, and school the best chance to be successful in each sport, multi-sport athletes are strongly encouraged.  The more athletes we have participating in each sport, the more opportunities to successfully compete against larger schools. In addition, the Sports Performance department works with each sport year-round, ensuring our athletes receive a centralized, progressive safe training environment which carries over from season to season and year to year. 

Bell, David R., et al. “Sport Specialization and Risk of Overuse Injuries: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis.” Pediatrics, vol. 142, no. 3, 2018, doi:10.1542/peds.2018-0657.