One-Sport Wonders: Should Your Child
Specialize in a Single Sport?
"The knee of a child or adolescent is different than that of an adult, due to the presence of growth plates of the distal femur and proximal tibia," says Dr. Richard Hinton, orthopedic surgeon at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, Md. The immature musculature of the knee less effectively stabilizes the knee, the ligaments resist stress less effectively and the articular cartilage is predisposed to repetitive trauma and injury. "Overuse injuries in the knee are often disregarded as growing pains," he says.
According to Dr. David Marshall, of Children's Health Care in Atlanta, some of the more common overuse injuries, other than problems with the knees and growth plate, include shoulder injuries such as rotator cuff and tendonitis (baseball and swimming), elbow injuries (particularly seen in youth baseball) and foot injuries like stress fractures (usually found in running sports).Preventing Problems
"Kids need to know their bodies' limits, and not be afraid to tell someone about the injury," Dr. Marshall says. "When children are specializing in a sport, they are less likely to tell anyone they are hurt for fear of losing important playing time." Some children try to play through the pain because of the high competitive level of their teams. Too often this "suck-it-up" attitude is reinforced by coaches who don't want to lose. An injury that isn't allowed to heal, however, can end an athlete's career.
Dr. Jim Neilan of Sports Care in East Hanover, N.J., says that if the child insists on specializing, there are ways to help prevent overuse injuries. "Make sure there are proper equipment, proper coaching and proper training available," he says. "Parents need to investigate all the risks factors before participation."
Keep in mind that there is no one sport that is best. The key is moderation. "One activity a season is a good rule of thumb," Quinn says. He also advocates for some time off, not just to let the body recover, but also to prevent burnout.
In the long run, sports should be about fun. As long as the child enjoys playing the sport, and moderation, as well as immediate attention to injury, is respected, specialization can be a positive experience.