There has been a trend towards encouraging children to participate in a single sport at a younger age, however a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that delaying single sport specialization until late adolescence can minimize the risk of overuse injuries and player burnout as well as increase the likelihood of athletic success. Dr. Joel Brenner, MD, MPH, one of the authors of the report explains that new compelling evidence has resulted in a change to the AAP’s previous policy from 2000 on single sport specialization in young athletes.
The incredibly visible presence of famous, top athletes and the lure of future financial success have fueled a desire for early specialization in a sport, at the exclusion of other sports and activities. But the new 2016 AAP report emphasizes that based on surveys of top college and professional athletes, “For the majority of sports, late specialization with early diversification by playing multiple sports is most likely to lead to elite status.”
Delaying single sport specialization until late adolescence (age 15-16) also results in fewer injuries. According to the AAP research, an estimated 50% of athletic injuries are related to overuse. Specifically taking at least 1-2 days off per week from the main sport and a full month off at least 3x per year, “will allow for athletes’ physical and psychological recovery.”
Furthermore early specialization in a sport can lead to athlete burnout as evidenced by the fact that 70% of children drop out of organized sports by 13 years of age. According to the new AAP report, avoiding single sport specialization at a young age leads to less burnout and increases the likelihood of the teenage athlete continuing to pursue the sport.
For teen athletes who do decide to specialize in a sport, it is important to help them to be realistic about their chances of college and professional success. The AAP report underscores that 3-11% of high school age athletes go on to compete at the college level and of that group only 1% receive college scholarships. Then among college level athletes, only .03-.5% continue on to play sports professionally.
Participation in sports can provide children and teens with excellent lessons about self-esteem, teamwork, sportsmanship and health. For those young athletes who demonstrate passion and ability in a particular sport, new AAP information concludes that delaying single sport specialization until adolescence can result in healthier, happier and more successful athletes.