EDITORIAL: Study reinforces idea that single-sport specialization at young age a bad idea

York Dispatch
  • WellSpan and the York Revolution recently teamed for a study on single-sport specialization.
  • The study found single-sport specialization at a young age can lead to an increased risk of injury.
  • The study also found that athleties didn't believe specializing at a young age helped their careers.

It seems like simple common sense.

Youngsters should participate in a wide variety of athletic activities — the more varied the better.

The epidemic of childhood obesity in this nation makes it imperative to keep our kids active.

WellSpan Director of Sports Medicine Dr. John Deitch, talks about findings from a recent study done in coordination with York Revolution, and the and the effects of single-sport specialization during a media session at PeoplesBank Park in York City, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

The easiest way to do that is to offer our children a number of different avenues for engaging in exercise.

Children, however, are often easily bored. Attempting to direct their focus into just one sport can be a recipe for early disinterest or even burnout.

Yet, that is exactly what some parents do, often with the encouragement of club coaches. The primary reason for single-sport specialization is the pursuit of the holy grail of prep athletics — landing an elusive college scholarship or a professional contract.

The evidence: Now, however, we have some hard evidence to back up the common-sense notion that specializing in a single sport at a young age is exactly the wrong thing to do.

And we can thank WellSpan Health and the York Revolution for providing us with the corroboration.

Those two local organizations teamed up recently on a study in which they anonymously surveyed 102 Atlantic League baseball players to see if they believed single-sport specialization helped them get to pro baseball and to find out what percentage of those players have suffered a serious injury.

What the study found was that, of the 102 players surveyed, 50 of them (49 percent) specialized in baseball by the age of 9. Those who specialized experienced a significant injury in their careers at a higher rate than those who didn’t specialize. And 63.4 percent of players surveyed didn’t believe specializing in baseball helped them get to the pro level.

WellSpan study finds single-sport specialization at young age can increase risk of injury

The players who completed the survey also believed that sport specialization was not necessary before high school and that young baseball athletes should not be encouraged to participate in a single sport because of an increased potential for suffering serious injury.

The report was published Sept. 22 in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

Key message: According one of the study’s co-authors, John Deitch, single-sport athletes suffer more injuries because they’re specializing in a skill set rather than building fundamentals of fitness.

“The key message for parents, coaches and athletic administrators is that (what) health professionals in sports medicine have concluded, through research all across our country over the last few years, is that specializing early has a downside, and that downside is an increase in injury,” said Deitch, who is director of sports medicine at WellSpan.

The report by Deitch and his co-authors should be required reading for every parent or coach who believes that specializing in a single sport at a young age will improve a child's chances of becoming a college or professional standout.

That  does not appear to be the case.

In addition, single-sport specialization will likely lead to an increased risk of a major injury.

Let kids be kids: We need to let kids be kids. Don’t force them into a single sport at young age. Instead, let them try a variety of activities to see where their true passion resides.

Common sense has long told us that much.

Now we have the scientific research to support that belief.

When common sense and science intersect, we need to pay attention.