Injuries among youth baseball players are dramatically rising. In particular, the number of Tommy John elbow reconstructions being performed on adolescent baseball players has greatly increased over the past decade. In the past this was an injury only seen in professionals and now it is common in thirteen and fifteen year olds. There is one primary reason for this: Youth baseball players are playing too much! They are playing year round and on multiple teams. Their arms are not getting the rest needed to heal.
Unfortunately, this is part of a national trend in youth sports referred to as specialization. Kids are picking a single sport to focus on early in their development and then playing that sport year round. We see this with baseball, soccer, basketball, swimming and every other type of sport. The problem with this is that kids are loosing out on the advantages of playing multiple sports such as cross training, the development of muscles in multiple domains, exposure to other sports that they may develop an interest in and rest from the physical stress of their primary sport.
Here is a short list of reasons why kids should not play a single sport year round:
1. Even professional baseball players take rest: At the end of the season most professional pitchers will shut it down and not throw for 6-10 weeks. This gives their arms a chance to rest and heal. If a pro needs some rest doesn’t a ten year old?
2. Playing multiple sports leads to better athletic development. The skills and muscles used in others sports may ultimately make the athlete better at his or her primary sport. Urban Meyer has said that when he recruits football players at Ohio State he looks for multiple sport athletes.
3. Playing more is not going to change your child’s potential. Some parents want their kid to play because they think it will lead to a scholarship or bigger things. However, the reality is that 99% of athletic success at the highest levels is genetic. No amount of coaching is going to make the next Michael Jordan. Professional athletes have an incredible amount of innate talent.
4. Remember the primary purpose of youth sports: having fun, developing character and being fit.