The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) released an official statement with health-focused recommendations to reduce the risk of injury due to youth sports specialization, which is often defined as year-round participation in a single sport, usually at the exclusion of other sports.
The statement was endorsed by Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS), Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society (PHATS), Professional Soccer Athletic Trainers Society (PSATS), National Basketball Athletic Trainers’ Association (NBATA), Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS), and the NATA Intercollegiate Council for Sports Medicine (ICSM).
NATA acknowledges sports specialization as an evolving health issue in adolescent and young athletes. Current evidence supports an association between sports specialization and overuse injury in athletes. While current literature has paid more attention to the physical and mental aspect of sports specialization, the psychosocial implications of young athletes continue to be a concern.
NATA supports the following recommendations as they relate to the health and well-being of adolescent and young athletes:
- 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, or sample, a variety of sports. This recommendation supports general physical fitness, athleticism and reduces injury risk in athletes.
- 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 competing in other organized sports simultaneously. Total volume of organized sport participation per season is an important risk factor for injury.
- Less than eight months per year: Adolescent and young athletes should not play a single sport more than eight months per year.
- No more hours/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).
- 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.
- 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.
”Studies show that young athletes often see specialization as a prerequisite to advancing – making the varsity team, earning a college scholarship or progressing to the professional level. 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.” NATA President, Tory Lindley, MA, ATC
“There is a trend with players being drafted, coming in with multiple overuse injuries and related surgeries, such as Tommy John surgery – unfortunately that age appears to be getting younger and younger each year,” said Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) President, Ron Porterfield, ATC. “Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint, so having healthy players who can come in and go the distance in development can make a huge difference.”
“The players who make it into the NFL are significantly more likely to have played multiple sports while growing up,” said Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) President, James Collins, ATC. “In fact, almost 90% of 2018 NFL Draft picks were multiple-sport athletes.”
“There is a misconception that in order to get to the professional level of hockey players have to start young and focus all of their energy on it,” said Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society (PHATS) President, Chris Kingsley, MS, ATC. “Actually, cross-training in other sports is an asset to development and encouraged even at the professional level.”
“We understand that youth academy teams are an integral part of our league and the development of our sport in this country. It is, however, important to remember the risks associated with sports specialization, especially at an early age,” said Professional Soccer Athletic Trainers Society (PSATS) President, Sean Kupiec, MA, ATC, CSCS. “As athletic trainers, we want to educate parents and coaches regarding best practices for the long-term health of these young athletes.”
“The NBATA fully supports the NATA’s effort to provide critical information to parents and coaches in regards to specialization in youth sports,” said National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association (NBATA) President, Aaron Nelson, MS, ATC, CES.
“As part of the NBA, we are grateful to work with some of the best athletes in the world and we all have seen how detrimental specializing at a young age can be to the process. We believe that as youth athletes navigate to the sport of their choice at an older age, it will benefit them physically and mentally to have played multiple sports and avoided overtraining. The NBATA asks that parents and coaches follow the recommendations NATA has laid out to directly address the health and well-being of all youth athletes!”
“One of the reported motivators for youth sports specialization is to earn a sports-related college scholarship. A sobering truth is that the probability of a high school student athlete competing at the collegiate level and receiving any form of sports scholarship is about 2 percent,” said Intercollegiate Council for Sports Medicine Council (ICSM) Chair Murphy Grant, MS, ATC, PES. “As youth athletes progress through their respective sports, the top priority should be their mental and physical health and well-being, which can be jeopardized through early youth sports specialization. We support the recommendations announced by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.”