Should Children Focus on One SportMost kids love being active, so kids playing sports is natural. According to Ranker, the top five sports for kids are:

  1. swimming
  2. soccer
  3. gymnastics
  4. basketball
  5. dance

Your kids are probably already involved in one or more of those, or they likely enjoy playing school sports such as football, volleyball or tennis. When a child shows a natural talent or just enjoys playing a particular sport, it’s understandable that parents would want to encourage it. After all, sports and health essentially go hand in hand, but excelling in a sport could lead to a lucrative career or, at the very least, scholarships down the road. However, with new research available, ideas about kids specializing are changing. While it used to be that focusing on one sport as early as possible was the norm, more and more experts are pondering should children focus on one sport.

One issue is that putting 100 percent focus on playing one sport can interfere with physical development in children and result in increased injury. The Changing the Game Project reports that, according to Loyola University’s Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, kids who specialize in sports are 70 to 93 percent more prone to being injured than kids who participate in a variety of sports. Additionally, female adolescent athletes are more likely to develop knee pain and disorders such as ACL tears. Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times says pediatricians put some of the fault for that on overuse injuries. Admittedly that’s logical, so it makes sense that kids who participate in multiple sports would be building up all or at least most of the muscles in their bodies to help support the ones that are important for playing their favorite sport.

Another important matter is the question of burnout. Whether it’s school sports or an extracurricular sport that your kid loves playing, odds are that she loves doing it because it’s fun. When she has to do it and when winning becomes the focus, the fun tends to stop and stress starts. Of course, with increased stress comes decreased motivation and images of a champion athlete go out the window. Top that off with the fact that kids who specialize in a single sport at a young age have high rates of lowered physical activity as adults and you have a recipe for health problems later in life.

None of this should be taken to discourage kids’ or parents’ enthusiasm if the child truly loves one sport over another and excels at it. Just approach it using the advice of expert youth sports researchers. Jessica Faser-Thomas and Jean Cote recommend that, up until age 12, only 20 percent of a child’s time should be spent on one chosen sport with the rest being focused on a variety of other sports. Between the ages of 13 and 15, that ratio can change to 50/50 and the child can start splitting time equally between one sport and the variety of others. Around age 16 is when it usually becomes important for kids to specialize but, even then, 20 percent of training should be in other areas including resistance and cardio training, but also in sports completely unrelated to their sport of choice. Following this formula is the best shot your child has at excelling in a sport while building a strong, healthy body and without burning out early.

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