Playing multiple sports creates better, healthier kids, says physical therapist

  • Wednesday, March 14, 2018 4:03pm
  • Sports

Special to the Reporter

In an era of specialization in sports involving athletes of all ages, physical therapist and DPT, Anna Friedman, joins most medical experts in agreeing that young athletes generally remain mentally and physically healthier, achieve greater success, and learn to enjoy a lifetime of physical fitness when they opt to play multiple sports.

Friedman adds that, in contrast, allowing youths to specialize in a sport year-round can lead to burnout, a greater risk of experiencing overuse injuries, and less long-term success.

“Encouraging our kids to specialize in a single sport throughout the year isn’t putting them on the right path toward success without risking injury and burnout,” said Friedman, physical therapist of RET Physical Therapy Group, which has 26 locations in the greater Seattle area, including Bellevue, Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Mercer Island and Redmond. “While this path has worked out for some, these stories are very rare and overlook the fact that the risks of specialization far outweigh the rewards, especially when it comes to youth athletes.”

It’s been estimated that up to 60 million U.S. youths ages 6 to 18 years participate in some form of athletics. More than 5 million of these athletes experience an injury each year. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at least 50 percent of athletic injuries are related to overuse, the types of injuries for which one-sport athletes are particularly prone.

“An overuse injury happens when a bone, muscle or tendon has been put through repetitive stress without being given a sufficient amount of time to heal or repair, leading to microtraumatic damage,” said Friedman. “Think sore pitching arms or pain in a swimmer’s shoulder that doesn’t go away, possibly keeping the athlete from competing.”

The same repetitive motions year-round can, in other words, lead to such overuse injuries as strains, sprains, stress fractures, and even tears in muscles, tendons and ligaments. Playing multiple sports, in contrast, allows young athletes to challenge their bodies in different ways, developing new sets of physical traits and skills and that offer more universal performance benefits.

To help young athletes reduce the risk of developing overuse injuries and overall burnout, Friedman offers the following advice to parents and coaches:

Encourage diversity: Especially at an early age, encourage kids to try out and play different sports throughout the year. Some of the most successful athletes (up to 97 percent of the pros) believe being a multisport athlete was beneficial to their long-term success.

Seek rest: Young athletes should take at least one to two days off from practice and/or structured sports participation each week. Some experts suggest limiting weekly practice to the age (in hours) of the athlete. Long-term, athletes should take two to three months off a particular sport each year to help refresh the body and the mind.

Specialize later: Wait until at least high school age – better yet, around the ages of 16 or 17 – before considering specializing in any individual sport. At this point, the body is more prepared for such rigors.

Watch for signs: If a young athlete complains of nonspecific problems with muscles and/or joints, physical fatigue, or grows concerned about poor performance, visit a health professional such as a physical therapist, who can fully evaluate the issue and offer treatment (if needed) for any potential injuries or deficiencies.

More in Sports

Swimming strong, having fun

Redmond High senior trio leads the way.

At long last, Edgar Martinez’s waiting game is over. Photo by clare_and_ben/Flickr
Edgar Martinez finally makes the Hall of Fame

In his last year on the ballot, the Mariner legend and greatest designated hitter of all time gets the Cooperstown call.

Redmond boys possess solid team chemistry

Mustangs are rolling on the hardwood.

Overlake girls playing for each other, scoring success

Owls lead the 1A Emerald City League.

U.S. Club Soccer’s National Cup Northwest Regional kicking into Redmond

U.S. Club Soccer’s 2019 National Cup XVIII Northwest Regional will be held… Continue reading

Medeiros earns USA TODAY honor

USA TODAY High School Sports named Redmond resident and Eastside Catholic senior… Continue reading

2018: The year in sports for the Redmond area

Athletic success is a staple of the local community.

Lui takes charge on the wrestling mat

Redmond junior won league title last season.

Redmond defeats Woodinville in hoops action

Redmond’s Aidan Rolfs (middle) scored 17 points to lead the Mustangs to… Continue reading

Redmond athletes are ready for college rowing scene

Epp, Kirchoff compete for Sammamish Rowing Association.

Redmond seniors give thanks at football banquet

Redmond High’s football team recently held its banquet to end the season… Continue reading