Jul 29, 2016

Interview Transcript

Interviewer: Playing many sports is better for young athletes than just focusing on one. You'll find out why next on The Scope.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of health science conversation. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

Interviewer: A lot of sports medicine physicians say playing many sports is actually better for kids than hyper-focusing on just one, not only for injury prevention but also for a better athletic development. Dr. Emily Harold is a sports medicine specialist at University of Utah Orthopedic Clinic and you told me that one of the hottest topics in sports medicine right now is this idea of specializing in one sport versus playing many sports. Why is that so hot?

Dr. Harold: A lot of parents right now are faced with a pretty difficult decision where they have younger children and they're hearing from coaches and other people associated with sports that they need to have them specialized and do all these travel teams and really commit themselves to one sport at a pretty young age.

When you look at it, it becomes an issue with both the children or the kids wanting to play that one sport as well as their parents wanting them to succeed in a sport. That kind of pushes people to specialize in one direction.

Interviewer: Well, it makes sense, right, you just focus on the one thing, you're going to get better at that one thing. But that's not necessarily the case here.

Dr. Harold: Right, so the pushback recently has been that they've done a few studies that have shown that kids who specialized younger in a sport are more likely to burn out. So they might play baseball or soccer from the age of five to 17 but once they hit that age where they're a little bit older, they just decide they don't want to play anymore. It becomes less fun for them because of all the pressure associated with it and all the time they spent playing the sport.

And they've also shown that specializing early does not lead one to get a college scholarship. So I think part of the big push has been if kids specialize young and they develop that sport-specific skill, then they'll get that college scholarship and be able to play longer. And they've shown that's not necessarily the case.

Interviewer: What about injuries? More likely to get an injury if you specialize in just one sport?

Dr. Harold: More like to get overuse injuries. Some injuries that we used to not see in younger children we're seeing a lot more. Stress fractures in seven, eight-year-olds, we never saw that before. I think doing the same activity over and over again leads to repetitive breakdown of the muscles and the bones that are associated with that activity.

And if you can vary things and cross-train, you'll find that people have less injuries and are most successful at playing sports because a lot of skills pass from sport to sport. The ability to read where a ball is in the air, you'll do it in soccer, doing a header, but you also do that in baseball, catching a fly ball, you'll do in basketball, getting to rebound. And so a lot of sports have different things that you can learn from that sport that you can automatically transfer to another sport and actually do really well in.

Interviewer: So I've heard though that if you're going to do an activity or a sport that you should specialize it, right. So there must be like an age point where now I start specializing. Kind of where is that?

Dr. Harold: Yeah typically most people will start to specialize closer to high school, sometimes kind of 14, 15. Now if you were to look at NBA athletes, NFL athletes and your high-level elite athletes, they will play, usually, at least two sports all the way through high school.

Interviewer: Oh, really?

Dr. Harold: Very common to see. Well, if you just think about the people who are football quarterbacks who are drafted by the major leagues, it is a very large percentage. So people who are really gifted athletes are really gifted athletes and they're going to get that college scholarship whether they play basketball 12 months a year or eight months a year.

Interviewer: I guess I could see benefit in if you're a football player then also doing some wrestling because I'd imagine some strength is developed that would definitely help you in that other sport.

Dr. Harold: No, absolutely. Different sports require different levels of balance, different levels of strength, different muscle groups. And developing all of those is just going to make you better at another sport.

Interviewer: So at some point, parents are probably going to find themselves in a situation where they're going to have a coach or somebody else that doesn't agree with what we're talking about right here. So how do you help the parent through that process? How you help them to be strong?

Dr. Harold: I try and talk with the parents about how it's really important for the children's development for them to be exposed to multiple aspects of sport and I also really try to convey that when your child is seven, you don't know what their body is going to be like when they're 17. So specializing someone in soccer who is going to be 6'10" is not a good idea.

And so there's been some research that shows that you can take someone who is an athlete in one sport and make them fantastic in another sport just by putting them in the right sport for their habitus.

And so it's really important that we expose them to a variety of things. It's great for development. They have less burnout. They're happier in the long run and it honestly is a lot less expensive for the family as well.

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