When I was a kid, growing up in Massachusetts, I played every sport imaginable. Soccer, basketball, baseball, street hockey, whiffle ball, football, tennis, track, volleyball, kickball, etc. You name it, I tried it. Not only did I play sports, but I was an active kid in general. I was fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that had a bunch of kids my age so we had tons of fun just playing outside. We would ride our bikes, play kickball, play kick the can, jailbreak, Red Rover, Tag, Hide and Go Seek, and the list goes on.
My childhood was definitely not boring and involved a diverse variety of activities. The biggest issue was having time to play everything. Only playing one sport or doing one activity in a day was unheard of and, frankly, very boring for a kid like me. Every ones’ parents in the neighborhood encouraged us to go out and play from sun up to sun down.
Today I constantly see commercials reminding kids to go outside and play for 60 minutes a day. Only 60 minutes? Are you kidding me? When I was a kid, you couldn’t keep me inside. Additionally, today I see many parents constantly encouraging their kids to stick with just one sport because they’re thinking ahead to college scholarships, 10 years down the road. This is not only mentally detrimental to the children, but it's also physically detrimental. Focusing on one activity only, over and over, can cause serious injuries for children playing sports.
The term Tommy John Surgery didn’t exist for kids when I was growing up. Tommy John Surgery is ligament reconstruction/replacement in the elbow using a ligament from somewhere else in the body. It has been used primarily for pro-baseball players to extend their careers when they are faced with an injury in their throwing arm.
Little Leaguers straining their elbows and shoulders from pitching too much wasn’t an issue when I was growing up. Injuries happened in sports all of the time, but the types of injuries plaguing youth sports today are because of specialization at a young age. Injuries did happen when I was growing up but it was never because of specialization. Today kids and parents are requesting Tommy John Surgery so they can increase their pitching velocity. Too many parents are living vicariously through their children or are creating unrealistic dreams and aspirations for their children before they’re even 10 years old. I won’t get too deep into this topic because I could write a whole book on parents and youth sports, but parents aren't the only ones culpable in this epidemic.
Sports have become such a big business over the past several years. The emphasis on “having a good time” has been replaced with “win at all cost.” Youth leagues have now become profit generating businesses with a business model focused of, not development, but profits and wins. Both coaches and parents put unnecessary pressure on kids to play only one sport because they want to win at all costs. The result is this epidemic of injuries that’s becoming more and more common.
If you play only one sport year round the chances of getting an overuse injury are greatly increased. If you play for more than one team during the season, which many kids do - such as local teams, select teams, and travel teams - all in the same sport, you are asking for trouble. I can't imagine ever doing that when I was growing up. I had too many interests and my parents never put pressure on me to stick with one sport. It would also have been physically exhausting for my body and probably boring after a while. Many kids are burning out an early age because they’ve only played one sport their entire lives. By the time they get to high school or college their mind and body has had enough.
As a former collegiate strength and conditioning coach I saw this first hand with many athletes, but it was especially prevalent in my gymnastics teams. Gymnastics starts at a very young age with tons of pressure from parents and coaches. By the time the kids got to college, many of their bodies were beat up and done-in. They had bad knees, bad backs, bad shoulders, and bad wrists. Their physical age was 18 to 21, but many had the bodily injuries of someone who played 10 years in the NFL.
I cannot take credit for this quote but it really resonated with me when I heard it. “I've never seen a 10 year old win a Cy Young Award.” So why are we putting the same amount of pressure on child baseball players as we do on Major League Baseball players?
The best thing that I ever had as a kid was the freedom to play whatever I wanted to play. I was never burnt out or suffering from an overuse injury because I never stuck with the same sport for more than one season with a few practices each week.
Even the school I went to from 6th grade – 12 grade made it mandatory that we played a different sport each semester in gym class. Each sport had its own distinct movement pattern and allowed my body to rest. The best part was that I had no idea that I was allowing my body to rest. I was just playing a different sport because I liked to play it.
More importantly, playing multiple sports increased my pool of friends and teammates and expanded my skills across the board. If you have kids, encourage them to play different sports or participate in different activities because it is imperative their bodies and minds get a chance to mix it up. Playing sports should always be an enjoyable experience, without the threat of injury. I guarantee that if you play multiple sports, your chances of getting an overuse injury will greatly decreased and allow you to focus more on the fun of the game.
MCore FTS Founder & President