Ahhh!!! Florida, with its beautiful warm sunny days and virtually endless opportunities for sporting events, is a hotbed for the development of youth sports. Here in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, there are numerous opportunities for the young athlete to participate in sports year round. Too often, however, young athletes are playing only one sport all year long without the potential for rest or recovery.
Unfortunately, sports medicine specialists now understand that this is not a healthy strategy. In fact, young athletes who play or perform a single sport greater than eight months out of the year are at a significantly increased risk of experiencing an injury compared to the other youths who participate in different sports. In a recent sports medicine article, youth athletes who focus on a specific specialization of sport program are twice as likely to get injured compared to their friends who participated in self-directed unstructured free play.
There are a few theories as to why this may occur. Playing only one sport may overload developing structures causing overuse injuries. Additionally, proper development of other diverse muscle skills which occur during regular free play or from participating in array of different sports may not occur when a child only plays one sport.
Based on these theories, it is recommended that young athletes be given time away from their specific sport so that they can participate in free unstructured play with their peers. Parents and educators should provide opportunities for free play as well so that our young athletes can improve their motor development in general during the growing years which can reduce injury rates and encourage life-long activity free of injury.
Paul Lento, MD is Fellowship Trained and Triple Board Certified in Physical Medicine. He is a distinguished Sports Physician having served as team physician for major sporting events such as Winter Olympics and major city marathons. Locally he is team physician Lakewood Ranch and Booker High Schools. Dr Lento is a Castle Connolly Top Doc, a recognition of the best physicians in healthcare.