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October 23, 2017

Encourage Students To Play Multiple Sports

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Focusing Too Soon on Single Sport Can Cause Overuse Injuries

For some high school – and even middle school – athletes, their sports season never ends. Whether it is basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball or another activity, some students play for school teams and club teams, which means they literally play their preferred activity year-round. According to researchers, that level of specialty makes it more likely that young athletes could be injured.

A study conducted by by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and funded by the National Federation of State High School Associations Foundation discovered that high school athletes who specialize in a single sport sustain injuries to their lower extremities at a higher rate than those who play more than one sport. When athletes play one sport the entire year, the muscles and bones involved in that sport are more stressed, leading to injuries. For example, let’s say your daughter plays volleyball. Whether it is at practice or games, her knees take a lot of stress when she jumps. That stress can possibly lead to knee tendonitis.

When working with students, I often see overuse injuries because some athletes never take a break from their sport. If a student plays multiple sports, different muscles are being used, which can stave off those overuse injuries. If a student only plays one sport all the time, there is a chance he or she will get burned out and lose that desire to constantly get better.

In the study, 34 percent of high school students specialized in one sport, with girls (41 percent) more likely to specialize than boys (28 percent). Many student athletes feel pressure, whether it is from parents, coaches or peers, to select one sport and focus their training in that area. When talking with students, they cite the need to get better to help their school team or club team or to improve their skills so they can play in college.

So what should parents do? The first step is to encourage your children to play multiple sports if they want to. If your children only want to play one sport, encourage them to take time off from their sport and to include cross training in their workouts. For example, cross training activities for soccer and basketball players would be biking or swimming. Those activities require students to engage other muscles than the ones normally used in their sport.

It is important that coaches, parents and the athletes themselves realize there is a downsize to focusing on one sport. A balanced approach, whether it is playing multiple sports or taking a break from playing that single sport and incorporating cross training, is best for young athletes. 

Bailey Wehrle is a licensed athletic trainer with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care and provides services to students at Wautoma High School.