Parents should delay allowing their young athletes to specialize in one sport for as long as possible and permit them to participate on only one team at a time. That’s the recommendation from the Carrollton, Texas-based National Athletic Trainers’ Association, which recently issued a series of guidelines to reduce the risk of injury resulting from early specialization in youth sports.
“Studies show that young athletes often see specialization as a prerequisite to advancing, [whether it’s] making the varsity team, earning a college scholarship or progressing to the professional level,” NATA President Tory Lindley said in an article posted on the organization’s website. “When athletes specialize too early, or engage in excessive play, they are increasing the probability of injury and reducing the chances of achieving their goals. We want to help athletes and parents recognize health is a competitive advantage.”
To that end, NATA recommends the following guidelines for young and adolescent athletes:
1. Delay specializing in a single sport for as long as possible.
Sport specialization is often described as participating and/or training for a single sport year-round. Adolescent and young athletes should strive to participate [in], or sample, a variety of sports. This recommendation supports general physical fitness [and] athleticism and reduces injury risk in athletes.
2. One team at a time.
Adolescent and young athletes should participate in one organized sport per season. Many adolescent and young athletes participate or train year-round in a single sport, while simultaneously competing in other organized sports. Total volume of organized sport participation per season is an important risk factor for injury.
3. Less than eight months per year.
Adolescent and young athletes should not play a single sport more than eight months per year.
4. No more hours [per] week than age in years.
Adolescent and young athletes should not participate in organized sport and/or activity more hours per week than their age (i.e., a 12-year-old athlete should not participate in more than 12 hours per week of organized sport).
5. Two days of rest per week.
Adolescent and young athletes should have a minimum of two days off per week from organized training and competition. Athletes should not participate in other organized team sports, competitions and/or training on rest and recovery days.
6. Rest and recovery time from organized sport participation.
Adolescent and young athletes should spend time away from organized sport and/or activity at the end of each competitive season. This allows for both physical and mental recovery, promotes health and well-being and minimizes injury risk and burnout/dropout.
NATA officials say the statement has been endorsed by the Professional Football Athletic Trainers’ Society, the Professional Hockey Athletic Training Society, the Professional Soccer Athletic Trainers’ Society, the National Basketball Athletic Trainers’ Association, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers’ Society and the NATA Intercollegiate Sports Medicine Council.
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