I wanted to follow up a video I posted to Facebook, with a blog piece that could expand my thoughts. I recently read a blog post by Travis Mach (access here: http://www.mashelite.com/sport-specialization-causes-injury/)., and listened to a podcast by Physical Therapy Insiders (guest was Craig Liebenson). Both pieces talked about the problems associated with early specialization. Travis Mash focused more on the physical/ sports domain. Craig Liebenson described early specialization in the context of a career in rehabilitation.
The topic of early specialization in sports is a topic that is often ignored by some parents and coaches, who continue to believe that year-round sport specialization will ensure that their child becomes the next athletic superstar.
I will list a few reasons that children and adolescents should participate in a variety of sports, games, and free play.
_ An increasing number of youth are specializing in single sports at younger ages and engaging in repetitive, intensive activity.
_ Early, single sport specialization has not been shown to improve future athletic performance, but
has been shown to be detrimental both physically and emotionally.
_ The adolescent growth spurt is a particularly vulnerable period of time for the youth athlete with repetitive microtrauma, placing the body at risk structurally.
_ Burnout can occur in athletes who have no off-season, or break from competitive periods
_ Long-term consequences extending into adulthood exist for the athlete who specializes at a young age.
Smucny M, Parikh SN, Pandya NK. Consequence of single sport specialization in the pediatric and adolescent athlete. Orthop Clin N Am. 2015;46:249-258.
_May reduce opportunities for all children to participate in a diverse year-round sports season and can lead to lost development of lifetime sports skills.
_Early sports specialization may also reduce motor skill development and ongoing participation in games and sports as a lifestyle choice.
Myer GD, Jayanthi N, DiFiori JP, Faigenbaum AD, Kiefer AW, Logerstedt D, Micheli LJ. Sports specialization, part II: alternative solutions to early sport specialization in youth athletes. Sports Health. 2016;8(1):65-73.
_Specialized training in young athletes has risks of injury and burnout, while the degree of specialization is positively correlated with increased serious overuse injury risk.
_Risk factors for injury in young athletes who specialize in a single sport include year-round single-sport training, participation in more competition, decreased age-appropriate play, and involvement in individual sports that require the early development of technical skills.
_Adults involved in instruction of youth sports may also put young athletes at risk for injury by encouraging increased intensity in organized practices and competition rather than self-directed unstructured free play.
Myer GD, Jayanthi N, DiFiori JP, Faigenbaum AD, Kiefer AW, Logerstedt D, Micheli LJ. Sport specialization, part I: does early sports specialization increase negative outcomes and reduce the opportunitiy for success in young athletes? Sports Health. 2015;7(5):437-442.
The picture below is not to say that an athlete will be recruited by a Division I school if they play multiple sports in high school. It is just to show that not focusing on one sport from an early age does not determine if an athlete will be successful in a sport.
Thoughts to reverse the trend that come to mind are from Gray Cook, MovNat, and Crossfit Kids. Expose children from a young age to many different physical challenges, games and sports, through in-school physical education, or outside of school programs. Educate parents on the risks of early sport specialization, as well as, the athletic and psychological benefits of being a multi-sport athlete.
The same sentiments can be stated about “early specialization” in a career. I am not saying that having a track or plan for a career is wrong. Just that the speed of attaining a position, certification or level of income should be more like the cliché, marathon, not a sprint.
I feel that I can talk honestly about this topic, because early in my career I feel that I was too focused on the “next thing”, rather than gaining a broad spectrum of experience and knowledge. I started a residency program directly out of PT school. I feel that this was definitely a good decision, but in retrospect, I would have had a better plan for mentoring. The company I worked for was great, but the mentoring was looked at as more a “get it done as fast as possible” type situation, rather than quality.
I took one year off between my residency program, and starting a fellowship program. I enjoyed the year off, but felt an urgency in the back of my mind, that I needed to start the fellowship program or I would be behind. I now ask myself, behind who or what? I had a difficult time in the program, both with the material and clinical improvement, as well as, personally. During my fellowship program, we discussed the results of a personality type test called Strength Finders. Two categories I ranked highly in were “Achiever” and “Learner.” One of my instructors, David Browder, warned me that having this combination of strengths could result in the need to constantly be working towards a certification or end-goal program. He was right, in that, as soon as I finished a program, I was on the lookout for what was next. I am learning how to enjoy the present more, and not be consumed with achievement.
I will always have a great desire to read and learn. I now have better perspective on a healthier way to grow in my career. My only focus now is to stay true to who I am, while serving people to the best of my ability. This will take a lifetime to master.