If you (or your child) are getting burnt out and injured playing and practicing for just one sport, stop and read on. Besides the obvious overuse injuries, there are many benefits for young athletes to take a break from their sport of choice and participate in other activities through the year.
As the money paid to professional athletes has grown, as the competition for college scholarships has increased, the importance of becoming very good at one sport has increased as well. In years past most kids would play 2-3 sports at different times during the year. We would end one season, maybe rest for a few weeks and then begin another. This is happening less and less over time. There is a tremendous amount of pressure being placed on kids to choose one sport and dedicate the whole year in refining the skills it takes to perform this one sport well. This philosophy may help the young athlete hone certain skills at a faster rate than others, but it also poses some significant problems.
The incidence of overuse type injuries has increased dramatically in recent years. Dr. James Andrews, one of the countries leaders in Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery, has seen a 4 times increase in these overuse injures in the past 5 years. More surgeries for chronic sports injuries are being performed on younger and younger kids. As the young athlete is asked to perform the same tasks, same skills and have the same stresses placed on the body by one single sport the repetitive trauma accumulates without the time to recover. This constant bombardment in young, growing tissue causes breakdown and injury. The change over to a new sport every few months places different stresses on the body and allows for the tissues that were used in the previous sport to recover and heal. Common sense would dictate that if a young athlete specializes in one sport, they would become better and reach higher levels of college and professional participation. However as Dr. Andrews points out, the increased incidence of injury tends to lead these promising athletes to miss significant playing time and ultimately leave the sport they love.
Another benefit to playing multiple sports is the development of more complete athleticism. Different sports require different skills which may compliment those in the primary sport. The footwork and endurance needed in soccer will help improve the ability to play basketball or football for example. The hand-eye coordination in baseball will help in volleyball, hockey and other sports. Each sport will have something that ultimately leads to the improvement in the whole athletic package.
If the young athlete is not interested in playing other sports, there are ways to minimize the risk of over use injuries. Even professional athletes have an off season where they stop playing their sport. This does not necessarily mean to stop being active, but it does mean to rest from the repetitive strain caused by the sport. The higher level athletes will use their off seasons to work on their strength, flexibility and endurance while allowing sport specific traumatized areas to heal. Sports Medicine / Sport Conditioning centers with knowledgeable staff are great resources that can lead you into improving the young athlete in safe and effective ways.
The bodies of young athletes are a growing and developing mechanism. They cannot handle the stresses placed by doing something over and over for a long period of time without some recovery time. Playing multiple sports, seeing a Sport Conditioning Specialist, and participating in FAST type training classes during rest periods from the primary sport will allow for development of the athlete as a whole and ultimately lead to improved overall performance.