Sport is necessary for the growth and development of people, especially teenagers, and research shows when properly structured, it can lead to immediate and long-term benefits for them.
There are numerous benefits of playing sports. In addition to keeping one fit and in shape, sporting activities can boost your teen’s academic performance and help them learn cognitive skills and specific soft skills like patience, dedication, accountability, leadership, teamwork, and the benefits of hard work.
As such, most teens often develop an interest in a particular sport and want to practice for a long time, perhaps observing the Malcolm Gladwell “10,000 hours rule.” However, there is overwhelming evidence that sports specialization has negative health consequences that could affect your teens physically and psychologically.
In this article, we’ll discuss the deficits of sports specialization on teen athletes and why it’s healthier for them to play multiple sports instead.
First, let’s understand the concept of sports specialization.
What is Sports Specialization?
Sports specialization, also known as Early Sport Specialization (ESS) or Single-sport specialization, occurs when a young athlete focuses on intensive year-round training in a specific sport with the exclusion of other sports.
Although sports specialization provides mastery in a single area, several sports bodies and officials consider it detrimental to the growth of young teens and assume the benefits of playing sports will not come to such a teen athlete.
Deficits of Sport-Specialization on Teen Athletes
- Overuse injuries
A significant benefit of playing sports is that it strengthens the body’s muscle groups, but focusing only on a particular sport affects other muscle group development in the body and causes skewed growth.
Teenagers who play a single sport long-term are also at risk of musculoskeletal injuries and common overuse injuries such as jumper’s knee, tennis elbow, shin splints, etc.
- Overexertion and less recovery period
Teen athletes tend to stretch their limits in a bid to meet the demands of that sport. Thus, your teen athlete spends hundreds of hours yearly on a single sport. The deficit of such play is the overexertion of a particular muscle group due to shorter recovery periods.
- Training monotony
Teens get bored quickly, and routine training could cause boredom, especially if faced with frequent setbacks. Modern training plans recommend a few hard days per week, alternating with rest days and some sport variety, which sports specialization does not offer. This lack of variety leads to training stress called “Training Monotony.”
- Overtraining syndrome
Overtraining syndrome occurs when an athlete’s stress load becomes excessive due to an imbalance in the training plan. Sport specialization frequently necessitates increased training hours and often introduces multiple stressors, which could be expected to harm young athletes’ mental health and function and may increase the risk of burnout.
Young athletes may be more likely to experience social isolation, subpar academic results, increased anxiety, increased stress, insufficient sleep, and reduced family time.
The Benefits of Playing Multiple Sports
Sport diversification involves engaging in more than one sport. The idea of sports diversification is encouraged worldwide; even professional bodies like the American Academy of Pediatrics advise athletes to specialize between the ages of 15-16 (not before). Engaging in more than one sport benefits your teen athletes’ physical, mental, and psychological development.
Some of the benefits of sports diversification include:
- Spurs sporting performance
Sporting activities can be exhausting when the actions are monotonous and unchanged. However, practicing different sports improves the physical arrangement of your teen athlete and prevents physical burnout or mental stress.
- Exposure to different practice styles and learning methods
Playing multiple sports exposes teens who participate in them to the various training techniques and methods that are unique to each sport. An NBA Expert panel reported that athletes who play multiple sports tend to become more efficient and even more brilliant learners.
- Less possibility of muscle overuse and injuries
Playing different sports requires different muscle groups, and no sport ultimately requires the same muscle group. Young athletes who play other sports have a lower risk of injuries or muscle overuse because their muscle groups can recover quickly. Also, participation in multiple sports improves muscle coordination and control.
- Development of neuromuscular control
One of the benefits of playing sports is the ability to develop neuromuscular control in endurance, flexibility, stability, agility, speed, and power. A teen athlete with substantial neuromuscular control can correct any muscular imbalances in the body.
- Development of Transferable & Complementary Skills for other Sports
Indulging in multiple sports requires different parts of a teen’s musculoskeletal system. Your teen develops several skills from various sports transferable to other sports. For example, a teen that swims would have more muscular legs, which your teen can use for jumping in basketball.
As a parent who wants the best for their child, encouraging them to participate in multiple sports is essential. It proves to reduce overuse injuries, stretch learning, improve mental toughness, and the entire athletic build of your athletic teen.
Thus, if your teen’s coach insists on specialization, explain your reasons for sticking to sport multiplicity using some of the reasons in this article.