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Sports: The Case for Having Fun v. Too Much of a Good Thing

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

Recently, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) issued a powerful, new set of guidelines for how youth and adolescents should approach the great fun and benefit of organized sports.

NATA is the nation’s premier organization of people who have devoted their professional careers to the training of athletes.   The organization issues a peer-reviewed journal in the subject, and the October issue is entirely devoted to the issue of how our youth do sports.

NATA’s new recommendations fly squarely in the face of current trends in youth organized sports.  Simply put, NATA observes that an over-concentration on a single sport can be harmful and actually limit the skills in sports in adulthood.

Here are NATA’s six recommendations for how our youth and adolescents should participate in organized sports:

  1. Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible.
  2. One team at a time.
  3. Youth and adolescents should not play a single sport more than 8 months a year.
  4. Given the age of the child, that child should not play more than that number of hours of sports a week.
  5. Youth and adolescents should not do sports, training and games, more than 5 days a week.  Two days a week completely off sports a week is a minimum.
  6. A break should happen at the end of every sport season.

Why This New Approach?

There are several reasons NATA cites for issuing these recommendations.

The first has to do with injury.  The chance of hurting your body in a sport before adulthood is increasing in America.  Most injuries that occur from single sport specialization appear to be more overuse than acute injuries.  Overuse injuries include a wide range of tendonitis such as Osgood-Schlatter disease, patello-femoral syndrome, Sever’s disease.  There are 430,000 ER visits and 10,000 hospitalizations a year due to sports related injuries, 90% are in kids.  NATA cites literature linking single sports specialization and constant activity as partly to blame for the rise of these harms.

The second, surprisingly, has to do with ultimate level of athletic ability.  NATA claims that single sport specialization and participation in such activity more than 8 months a year and more than 5 days a week leads to poorer adult level proficiency than giving one’s body a range of activities and sufficient break times.  NATA cites studies of Olympic level athletes that show they tend to do multiple sports more often than those who do not reach this level.

The organization estimates about 30% of our children and adolescents violate these recommendations by concentrating on single sports and training and competing in them for more than 8 months a year with few weekly breaks.

They cite policy positions from 7 medical societies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the orthopedic associations that support their recommendations.

BOTTOM LINES

  1. Sports are great.  Exercise is one of the most effective choices to improve health for body, and mind.
  2. Organized sports are a great vehicle to get exercise.
  3. NATA has issued an important warning that the path of constant organized sport, and in one sport, is not a good idea.  Doing one sport for more than 8 months a year, and more than 5 days a week, without breaks, can hurt your body, and actually diminish ultimate levels of skill.

This is an important warning from a highly respected athletic training professional society.  Maybe it is time to rethink how we organize how we invite our children into the fabulous world of sports.

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

 

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