Let The Kids Play! The Importance of Playing Multiple Sports

For some at least the last decade, pediatricians have become alarmed at the increased amount of injuries they are seeing in young athletes. The doctors are noting that they are seeing athletes at a young age suffer from repetitive stress injuries, i.e. those injuries associated with playing a single sport and the athlete essentially wears out their joints, muscles, and/or bones. Although pediatricians have called out the need for athletes to play multiple sports and thus avoiding multiple injuries, there has been a lack of study on the long-term effects, positive or negative, on playing multiple versus single sports. That lack of information was until just recently.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco tackled the topic of multiple sports play in a recently published a report titled “The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance” (A title you would only find in a research paper). The researchers studied the health and performance of 237 NBA athletes, noted those who were multisport athletes in high school, and those who played a single sport, and sought to find a statistical difference in health (injuries) and performance (play time and longevity).

The finding show that the athletes who played multiple sports when they were younger suffered fewer major injuries (25% vs 43%), had an increase in the number of games they played, and a significantly longer career.

For you parents with multisport stars, I think the direction is obvious: Let the Kids Play!!

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Delay sports specialization until at least age 15-16 to minimize risks of overuse injury.
  • Encourage participation in multiple sports.
  • If a young athlete has decided to specialize in a single sport, a pediatrician should discuss the child’s goals to determine whether they are appropriate and realistic.
  • Parents are encouraged to monitor the training and coaching environment of “elite” youth sports programs.
  • Encourage a young athlete to take off at least three months during the year, in increments of one month, from their particular sport. They can still remain active in other activities during this time.
  • Young athletes should take one to two days off per week to decrease chances of injury.