Kids today play more sports than ever before, and more kids today are experiencing serious sport-related injuries and sports burnout. So, what gives?
How we got to now
A generation ago we began to see the transformation of the three-sport letter-winner into the “sport specialist” (meaning more kids were choosing to play one sport, year-round, versus changing sports with each new season). Critics at that time pointed to the increased risk for both physical injury and sports burnout, predictions that have largely been proven correct. Unfortunately, the intensity level for kids in sports has only gotten worse since then, leaving more kids today to deal with serious injuries and complications related to sports burnout (including poor coping that often involves drugs and alcohol).
The sport specialist has become normal in the eyes of many parents and coaches today, perhaps setting the stage for the newest trend: the multiple sports, same season athlete.
What is happening
Look around and take note of how many kids today are playing not one but two (or sometimes even three) sports at the same time — you’ll be amazed at how regularly this is occurring, especially during the summer months. For some parents they succumb to this sports model because their child wants to play multiple sports (and there are multiple sport opportunities provided for in their community), while other parents follow this model because it seems like every other kid on the block is doing it.
If the multiple sport, same season trend continues soon enough it will become the norm — similar to what we saw happen with sport specialization just a few years ago. In fact, I have already witnessed this at my practice with increasingly more parents thinking nothing of signing up for 2 (or 3) sports at one time.
More burnout coming? Or worse?
The logical prediction is that as we see kids play more sports at the same time, we will also see increases in injuries and sports burnout. Assuming more sport intensity is on the horizon, the big questions will center around the potential for future physical injuries to be more severe and chronic, and future sports burnout to be even more stressful, leaving kids even more at-risk for poor coping (including alcohol and drug usage).
Will we ever see a tipping point if more (and bigger) problems are created by more sport intensity? What will it take in order to help young athletes get the rest they need — for their bodies and minds — and not feel the obligation to play multiple sports in the same season? Can we, as adults, create a future paradigm with less pressure, but yet provide kids a fun, safe, and meaningful sport/life experience? It’s going to take some effort to create a more balanced sport participation model in the future, but it’s a very worthwhile pursuit in my opinion.