Noted sports medicine expert Dr. James Andrews recently offered his thoughts on young athletes and injuries, especially as it relates to youth sport intensity and seriousness and the relation to youth sport injuries. James makes a couple great points about sport specialization and “professionalism” in youth sports, suggesting that these two factors greatly contribute to the current spike in youth sports injuries we are witnessing. More simply, kids who play serious sports, specialize in a sport, and play that sport year-round are more at-risk for injuries compared to kids who do not do these things (not to mention the increase in risk for sports burnout).
It’s probably no surprise to you to learn the antecedent factors and conditions James talks about that relate to more injuries, but the big question is how did we ever get to this point to begin with?? Why did youth sports become so serious, and why have so many kids become specialists?? One prominent reason I have come up with is the pluralistic ignorance seen today — in other words we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of parents who falsely believe more = better, and that better = college/pro sports in the future. Unfortunately, regardless of sport type, intensity, or specialization the odds of a youngster playing college sports out of high school is still only about 5%.
A second reason related to pluralistic ignorance is the “everyone else is doing it so we should, too” mentality. Rather than uniquely evaluate their own child and his or her best fit for sports, more families today see other families on their block signing up for travel leagues, leaving them to feel left out if they don’t do the same. Recreational sports, as a result of this, have become falsely viewed by many as only for less-abled kids, or kids who simply don’t have much athletic talent.
If you are a sports parent it is important to listen to Dr. Andrews and his advice on sport intensity and specialization. I agree with him about the connections to injuries, and think a more concerted effort is needed in youth sports to help parents not only understand this connection, but also the sport psychology reasons why families get caught up in these scenarios in the first place.
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