As the Fall sports season is well underway, many school-aged children are returning to their busy sports schedules. At Girl Fit Physical Therapy we are passionate about injury prevention and overall athlete well-being, this includes providing education on Early Sports Specialization (ESS).
There are 3 criteria that would designate an athlete as specializing in sport early:
In the United States, research states that we are seeing children specializing in sports as early as the age of 6 years old. Additionally, many sports are emerging as “specialty” sports with the rising popularity of club and travel teams including basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and running sports. An athlete who meets the above criteria may be at an increased risk for burnout and injury.
Despite the belief that specializing in sports early will increase a child’s success in a given sport, there are actually many potential negative effects to consider. This includes both burnout from sport as well as higher risk for injury. Burnout is a result of overtraining without adequate rest and recovery leading to decreased sports performance. Burnout is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion, decreased interest in sport, and a reduced sense of accomplishment. Oftentimes prolonged burnout can lead to “dropping out” of sport. Specializing in a single sport before the age of 12 is associated with higher rates of dropout from sport.
Research shows that athletes who are highly specialized in their sport are more likely to sustain overuse injuries. This includes athletes who are playing a single sport more than 8 months per year and are training more hours per week than their age. For example, a 12-year old child who is participating in sports for more than 12 hours/week is at an increased risk for injury.
For most sports, there is no evidence that intense training and early specialization will lead to an increased chance of achieving elite status in their selected sport, so in many cases early specialization is not worth the risks. However, in gymnastics and figure skating there may be some advantages to early sport specialization. Overall, if a child is wanting to specialize in a given sport, they should be encouraged to wait until after the age of 13.
The above symptoms may be associated with overtraining and burnout and decreasing hours of organized sport per week may help to address these symptoms.
After reading this post, if your child is experiencing any of the symptoms above or is considered to be “specializing in sport early”, the physical therapy team at Girl Fit Physical Therapy is here to help address overuse injuries and provide education on decreasing injury risk as well as athlete burnout. Our one-on-one physical therapy treatment model provides the highest quality of care and our group strength and flexibility classes (6th grade and up) can be a fun supplement to traditional physical therapy care.
To schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-618-9290.