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Geisinger becomes the first member of Risant Health

Teen wants to specialize in one sport? Why they should reconsider.

Sports can foster physical and mental growth in children, and seeing your child have fun (and scoring a goal) is a great feeling.  

Some parents enroll their children in multiple teams or use private trainers so they can play one sport year-round. While single-sport specialization sounds like a good way to increase your child’s skills, it may be better for their health to have them learn several.

“Sport specialization has been a trend recently that aligns with the increasing competition in teen sports,” says Justin Tunis, MD, primary care sports medicine physician. “However, if your child only plays one sport, they are likely to overuse certain muscle groups, which can lead to injury.”

Watch for overuse injuries

Minor sports-related injuries that happen suddenly are common. But kids who play a single sport year-round are at risk for long-term overuse injuries.

“Some examples of overuse injuries include conditions like tennis elbow, jumper’s knee, shin splints and little-league shoulder,” says Dr. Tunis.

These conditions come from overexertion and not getting enough time to recover. Most people think you have to practice all the time to train for a sport. In reality, rest and recovery are just as important as sport-specific training.

Overuse injuries come from damage to tendons, ligaments and muscles. Repetitive motions like swinging a tennis racket can stress these body parts, which leads to injury or inflammation. The best treatment for these injuries is often rest, but if the condition is severe, your teen might need to see a sports medicine specialist. 

Teens’ developmental stage offers another good case to consider more than one sport. “Part of the reason that overuse injuries are common in teenagers is that they’re still growing,” says Dr. Tunis. 

Excessive and repetitive use of muscles and joints during growth spurts can cause serious, sometimes permanent, damage. Generally, teens shouldn’t practice more hours than their age — so if they’re 13, they should keep their practice to 13 hours a week or less. And it’s recommended that teens don’t specialize in one sport until they’re at least 15 years old. 

If your child is showing symptoms of an overuse injury, ask them to stop playing and see their physician. 

Why your teen should play multiple sports

In college, it’s not uncommon to be a multisport athlete. In fact, some of the best athletes play more than one sport. 

For muscles to grow, they need time to recover, and repeated use can cause long-term harm. By playing multiple sports, especially ones that are very different, your teen can develop different muscle groups. And that can lead to being a better overall athlete.

Other than avoiding an injury that can keep them sidelined, being a multisport athlete lets your teen transfer skills between sports. For example, swimming would be a good complementary sport for a basketball player — strengthening their legs will help with their jumping. 

However, in some instances, teams discourage athletes from joining other sports. A coach may even ask your teen to sign a contract saying they won’t play any other sports. This can be harmful to your child, so it’s best to discuss your concerns with the coaches.

“Talk with your teen about what sports interest them and encourage them to sign up for different sports teams,” says Dr. Tunis. “It will benefit their overall health and help them reach their athletic goals in the future.”

Next steps:

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