Some parents can live vicariously through their own children, often encouraging specialization in ONE sport at very young ages. As a pop culture reference, check out the Netflix Documentary "The Short Game" to see parents coaching their kids in this incredibly competitive tournament and tour, all hoping for them to become the next Tiger Woods. Specialization, defined as the "Hyper-focus of involvement within one-specific SPORT on a year round basis, is a complex process that should not occur until more information regarding advantages and disadvantages are known". We often find parents playing such an important role in promoting specialization, more so than other pressures affecting young athletes. According to Wilk et al., (2015) in a study researching rehabilitation of the throwing athlete, The shoulder has also been reported as the most common injury region in high school baseball players, and tremendous forces are placed on the glenohumeral joint as anterior shear forces approach 50% of the body weight during the throwing motion". This throwing motion, if improper or done excessively, can exacerbate such conditions and increase the likelihood of early long-term shoulder pathologies, particularly in baseball players.
Although there are some advantages to specialization, such as playing at a highly competitive level, motor skill acquisition, as well as enhancement of scholarship opportunities, we can all agree though that some of these advantages are more the exception than the rule. Dr Charles Popkin, pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Columbia University reported, "Sadly, what parents want and what parents hope to gain from their children's participation in youth sports is often at as significant extreme to what the kids actually want.... Children who specialize in one sport early in life were found to be the first to quit their sport and ended up having higher inactivity rates as an adult." As it relates to baseball, Yang et al (2014) stated that "high pitching volume and limited recovery will lead to arm fatigue, placing younger pitchers at a greater risk for elbow and shoulder problems and, subsequently, an increased risk for arm injuries" Other more serious concerns of intensive training include growth retardation and puberty delay in females, specifically gymnasts (Hecimovich et al., 2004).
Although there are clear benefits to children for being physically active and participating in sports (much more than at home playing video games), there is an appropriate line to be drawn in the sand, or on the court, or on the field. And we must all be cognizant that the age for specialization of sport, if absolutely necessary, doesn't arrive until much later than we may previously have thought. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, specialization is not recommended before the age of 12 or 13 years old. There are are also methods to avoid the burnout in sport, so that motor skill acquisition can be maintained at a high level, while preserving the long term orthopedic health of the young athlete. Dr. Popkin goes on, "Expose your children to as many activities as possible and support what they like. But if they're performing more hours of a sport a week than their age in years, they're probably overdoing it. " Another avenue is to become the coach or volunteer, and then help develop the schedule as to not overdo it for these young athletes.
And for those with an interest in Wisconsin sports and their heroes, we can learn from the phenomenal athletes that have demonstrated an active interest within their communities, such as JJ Watt. We can even read about how JJ Watt doesn't want us to play just one sport. And look where he ended up?
1. Hecimovich, Mark (2004). Sport Specialization in Youth: A Literature Review. JACA, 41 (4).
2. Wilk, Kevin. Hooks, Todd. (2015) Rehabilitation of the Throwing Athlete. Where we are in 2014. Clinical Sports Med 34 (247-261.
3. Rosenbaum, Daryl. Callender, Shelley. (2010) The Early Specialization of Youth in Sports. Athletic Training & Sports Health Care, 2 (6).
3. Epstein, David. Sports Should Be Childs Play. New York Times.
4. Brody, Jane. How to Avoid Burnout in Youth Sports. New York Times. Popkin, Charles. Columbia University Medical Center.