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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Focusing on one sport ups a teen’s risk of injury

Naim Suleymanoglu in action

I have a mixed reaction to the article below. While I cannot and do not wish to disagree with the data presented below, I think we have to step back and put it all into perspective. No doubt, pushing kids into specializing in just one sport too early could lead to chronic overuse type injuries and inhibit overall athletic development. Many collegiate coaches here in the United States, Urban Meyer of Ohio State is one, have said they would rather recruit multi-sport athletes. On the other hand I remember when Angel Spassov, a Bulgarian coach, who toured the U.S. several years ago telling the story of a young Naim Suleimanov, later to become Naim Suleymanoglu, who was trained in the Bulgarian weightlifting system. Spassov said that when he was being trained as a lifter in the 60's that they included wrestling, table tennis, and a number of other sports in their training. He said that all Naim did was lift, as that is what the Bulgarian system of training evolved into. He said that while he could beat Naim in wrestling and about any other sport, he could barely back squat Naim's best Snatch. No doubt a young athlete will benefit greatly from participation in a wide variety of activities. But there comes a time when commitment to a single sport is necessary if the highest results are desired. I suppose the timing of the start of specialization would depend a great deal on the specific sports involved.

Focusing on one sport ups a teen’s risk of injury

“Fun is the number one reason kids play sports,” says David Bell. “And lack of fun is the number one reason kids quit.” Nothing takes the fun out of sports faster than an injury. That’s why Bell, an athletic trainer, conducted a new study to figure out why kids get hurt playing sports. And specializing in a single sport is a key risk factor, he and his team now find.

Their data are among the first to show such a link. And they'll share their findings soon in an upcoming issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Bell and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin–Madison surveyed more than 300 high-school athletes about the sports they took part in and any past sports injuries.

To probe how specialized these athletes were, the researchers asked if they had ever quit other sports to focus on just one. One question also asked if the students had spent more than eight months a year training for a single sport. Finally, the researchers questioned the teens about whether they thought their primary sport (whatever it was) was more important than others.

The researchers classified any athlete who answered yes to all three questions as highly specialized. Saying yes to two questions earned an athlete a rating as moderately specialized. Kids who answered yes to one or none were deemed  low-specialty athletes.

Fewer than a third of the students (30 percent) said they played just one sport. Yet more than a third (36 percent) still fell into the highly specialized group. That surprised Bell’s team. And, importantly, highly specialized athletes were more likely to have had a knee or hip injury than were kids in the other groups. Students with no injuries were most likely to be in the low-specialization group.

Sorting out the details
Students who played one sport were no more or less likely to have experienced a sports injury than those who played more than one. Some people consider anyone who plays a single sport to be a specialist. But this study showed that kids who play more than one sport also can be specialized. It also showed that how specialized someone was — not the number of sports played — upped his risk of injury.

“We found that kids might be more specialized than they actually think,” Bell says. That’s an important conclusion, he adds. Indeed, he notes that kids, parents and coaches might all be underestimating the risk of injury.

“This article confirms that early specialization in one sport leads to a higher incidence of overuse injuries,” says Marc Hilgers. A sports-medicine doctor with Advocate Dreyer in Batavia, Ill., he was not involved in the study.

Bell’s team is now hoping to learn more about sports specialization in student athletes. They already have completed one study of more than 2,000 athletes who were 12 to 18 years old. Their findings are due to be published soon and could provide important data on how common specialization in teen sports is. The researchers also plan to study how the amount of time athletes spend playing a sport relates to their risk of injury.

The goal is to help parents and young athletes better understand how to limit that risk. Says Bell, “We want people to have as much information as possible so kids can participate in sports as safely as possible.”

Maybe we should all play more chess.

Didn't get here by playing Soccer!

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